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Biden Picks Robert Califf to Head the FDA for a Second Time

The cardiologist was briefly the FDA Commissioner in the Obama Administration, and now has a second chance to act on plans he tried to implement during his first tenure.

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Chloe Tenn

Chloe Tenn is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where she studied neurobiology, English, and forensic science. Fascinated by the intersection of science and society, she has written for...

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Nov 12, 2021

ABOVE: FDA headquarters © ISTOCK.COM, JHVEPHOTO

President Joe Biden announced today (November 12) his nomination of Robert Califf for the role of commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. Califf previously helmed the FDA for the Obama administration in 2016, but many of his plans were left unfinished during his 10-month tenure, reports STAT. His nomination will need to be confirmed by the Senate before he can assume the position again.

While commissioner, Califf made efforts toward reforming medical digital data systems and regulating tobacco products like e-cigarettes, according to STAT. Some of his initiatives, such as creating a collaborative organization to collect and distribute medical data nationally and improving the FDA hiring system, did not take effect.

After leaving the FDA commissioner position in 2017, Califf joined Verily, a biotechnology company with the same parent company as Google. There he led efforts to streamline and modernize clinical trials and medical data collection. He was also a consultant for pharmaceutical companies like Merck, Biogen, and Genentech, reports The New York Times. Additionally, he founded the Duke Clinical Research Institute, which manages various biomedical clinical research projects. This academic research center has received funding from drug companies to conduct studies, an industry tie Senators questioned Califf about before his first commissioner appointment.

In the announcement, Biden calls Califf “one of the most experienced clinical trialists in the country,” and says that he is “confident Dr. Califf will ensure that the FDA continues its science and data driven decision-making.”

However, Diana Zuckerman, the president of the nonprofit National Center for Health Research, tells the Times that “It is surprising that the White House has seemed really tone-deaf on conflicts of interest and very close ties to the industry.”

Some other experts who spoke with the Times responded more positively. Harvard Medical School researcher and former FDA advisory panelist Aaron Kesselheim tells the newspaper, “I think the fact that he worked for such a long time in clinical trials demonstrates that he has expertise in understanding what goes into a good clinical trial. Hopefully, he can bring that into his role as an F.D.A. commissioner.”