Biden announces Califf as pick to lead FDA

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President Biden on Friday tapped former Obama administration official and Duke University professor Robert Califf to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Califf pick comes after a months-long delay in selecting an FDA commissioner, which drew some criticism given the agency’s role in helping fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Califf is a familiar face, having led the agency at the end of the Obama administration. 

“Dr. Robert Califf is one of the most experienced clinical trialists in the country, and has the experience and expertise to lead the Food and Drug Administration during a critical time in our nation’s fight to put an end to the coronavirus pandemic,” Biden said in a statement. “As the FDA considers many consequential decisions around vaccine approvals and more, it is mission critical that we have a steady, independent hand to guide the FDA.

“I am confident Dr. Califf will ensure that the FDA continues its science and data drive decision-making. Dr. Califf had strong bipartisan support in the Senate in 2016, and I urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Dr. Califf so he can continue the important work being done at this critical moment,” Biden added.

Califf would return for a second stint atop the agency if confirmed, having led it for less than a year  starting in early 2016. He was previously confirmed in a bipartisan vote of 89 to 4, so he could get Republican support again.

A few Democrats did previously raise concerns about his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, as well as whether the FDA was doing enough to fight the opioid epidemic. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Friday issued a statement opposing the pick moments before it was officially announced, citing concerns about Califf’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

“Dr. Califf’s nomination and his significant ties to the pharmaceutical industry take us backwards not forward,” Manchin said in a statement. “His nomination is an insult to the many families and individuals who have had their lives changed forever as a result of addiction.”

Under federal law, Biden faced a Monday deadline to pick a leader for the agency or nominate the current acting commissioner, Janet Woodcock. 

The White House has for months deflected questions about the delay in nominating a Senate-confirmed FDA commissioner, saying it wanted to be sure whoever they chose could get majority support in the chamber. Officials believe Califf can earn bipartisan support, pointing to his last confirmation hearing and his broad experience as a doctor and researcher.

The agency has not had a Senate-confirmed leader since Biden took office in January, though it has been at the center of critical decisions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, authorizing vaccines for children, booster shots for adults and weighing data on antiviral drugs to combat COVID-19.

Califf, a longtime cardiologist at Duke University, has in recent years worked on health care issues at Google.

Updated: 12:30 p.m.

Tags FDA Food and Drug Administration Joe Biden Joe Manchin Robert Califf

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