Senate panel advances FDA nominee

Senate panel advances FDA nominee
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The Senate Health committee on Tuesday advanced to the full Senate the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. 

Califf, a cardiologist and longtime Duke University researcher, joined the FDA as a deputy commissioner in February. 

He has had relatively smooth sailing in the confirmation process and received praise from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday. 

Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare Time to end fiscal year foolishness MORE (R-Tenn.) touted Califf's “impressive” qualifications and noted that having a confirmed head of the FDA is important at a time when so much “exciting science” and possible new medical breakthroughs are happening.

What blowback Califf has received came from the left.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersMellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) Former Sanders campaign manager: Don't expect email list to be shared with DNC Adult film star: Trump and Stormy Daniels invited me to 'hang out' MORE (I-Vt.), a presidential candidate, previously announced he will oppose the nomination, saying that Califf’s ties to the drug industry are too tight. Califf faced some scrutiny over industry-funded studies while at Duke. 

“His extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry give me no reason to believe that he would make the FDA work for ordinary Americans,” Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday after voting against the nomination by proxy. 

However, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCDC director to miss fourth hearing because of potential ethics issues Week ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare MORE (Wash.), the committee’s top Democrat, on Tuesday defended Califf and applauded his “commitment to transparency in relationships with industry.”

Califf's nomination comes as the FDA is in the spotlight. The health panel is working on companion legislation to the House-passed 21st Century Cures Act, which aims to speed up the agency's approval process for new drugs and boost funding medical research. 

Alexander last year said that the committee would finish its work on the bill by the end of 2015, but the panel has not released a bill, much less advanced it to the full Senate.

Still, Alexander said Tuesday that it is a priority in the new year. “We should finish our work on this bill, and I’m committed to doing it in a bipartisan way that allows amendments,” he said. 

Controversy over high drug prices is also intensifying. Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform Democrats search for Russians — any Russians — for collusion story MORE (D-R.I.) called for action to deal with drug companies that hike the prices for drugs that have little competition, often because they treat rare diseases. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine) has also been tackling the issue with a Senate Aging Committee investigation.

One speed bump in the way of Califf’s nomination could be concerns from Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move Calif. Republican attacks Sessions over marijuana policy Trump's executive order on minerals will boost national defense MORE (R-Alaska) over the FDA’s approval of genetically modified salmon as food. 

She said Tuesday that she will push for clear labeling guidelines so consumers are aware that the fish is genetically modified. 

Alexander, though, responded that he wants the full Senate to confirm Califf soon.

“If there are issues, I hope those conversations can be speedy,” he said.