Senate panel approves Califf as FDA commissioner

A Senate panel approved prominent cardiologist Robert Califf, MD, as the FDA commissioner on Jan. 12. However, reports suggest the full Senate may not approve Califf anytime soon.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee unanimously voted in favor of Califf. Still, committee member Lisa Murkowski, a Republican Senator from Alaska, said in a news release that she planned on blocking Califf’s nomination until the FDA requires mandatory labeling for genetically engineered salmon when it becomes available for human consumption. The FDA approved genetically engineered salmon for human consumption in November, which may hurt Alaska’s salmon industry.

“I want to make sure, be very, very certain, that when we are talking about these genetically engineered fish for human consumption, voluntary labeling is not adequate,” Murkowski said. “So I’m going to be pushing for further conversations with Dr. Califf on this. I will vote to move him out of committee today, but I just want my friends and colleagues to be on notice that I have these concerns and I would like to get them resolved before his name moves forward to the Senate floor.”

Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for President, also may oppose Califf because Califf received funding from pharmaceutical industry while working at Duke University. Califf was a cardiology professor and vice chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke. He also founded the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

“We need someone who will work to substantially lower drug prices, implement rules to safely import brand-name drugs from Canada and hold companies accountable who defraud our government. Dr. Califf is not that person,” Sanders said in a statement to Politico. “His extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry give me no reason to believe that he would make the FDA work for ordinary Americans, rather than pharmaceutical industry CEOs.”

Califf joined the FDA in February as deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco. In September, President Barack Obama nominated Califf as FDA commissioner to replace Margaret Hamburg, MD, who resigned in March.

Stephen Ostroff, MD, has served as acting commissioner since Hamburg left.