Trump Picks Cancer Researcher Stephen Hahn for FDA Commissioner
Trump Picks Cancer Researcher Stephen Hahn for FDA Commissioner

Trump Picks Cancer Researcher Stephen Hahn for FDA Commissioner

The radiation oncologist and chief medical executive at MD Anderson Cancer Center has not worked in government previously.

Emily Makowski
Nov 4, 2019

Update (December 13): The Senate voted to confirm Hahn as FDA commissioner yesterday (December 12), reports STAT.

On Friday (November 1), President Donald Trump announced his intent to appoint oncologist Stephen Hahn to the role of Food and Drug Administration commissioner. Hahn has worked for the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, for the past four years and became its chief medical executive in 2018, reports Science.

If appointed, Hahn would become the fourth agency head in seven months. Ned Sharpless, the previous director of the National Cancer Institute, has been the FDA’s acting commissioner since the spring, when Scott Gottleib, now of the American Enterprise Institute, stepped down as commissioner, according to the Associated Press. Physician Stephen Ostroff led the FDA from January to May 2017, when Gottleib’s tenure began.

Hahn has been associated with controversy in the past. MD Anderson was cited for safety violations last year after a patient died of a contaminated blood transfusion, and employees criticized the center’s firing of Chinese researchers as part of an investigation into whether US scientists were collaborating with foreign governments, a move that Hahn said was “not racially motivated,” according to The New York Times. In 2009, Hahn apologized before Congress when it was found that a doctor under his supervision at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center had given cancer patients implants with the wrong dose of radiation, sometimes to the wrong organ.

Hahn is also known for the improvements he made as chief operating officer of MD Anderson. When previous president Ronald DePinho resigned in 2017, the cancer center was operating at a financial loss and laid off hundreds of employees before Hahn stepped in to restructure and stabilize its management, reports the Times. He was later promoted to chief medical officer.

Hahn, who has not previously worked in a government position, would “face challenging issues as commissioner—including vaping, opioids and drug importations—but his record of leadership at MD Anderson indicates he will be up to the challenge,” former FDA official Wayne Pines, who does consulting for FDA-regulated companies, tells the Associated Press.

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at