Back in September of 2015, President Barack Obama named Dr. Robert Califf – a respected cardiologist and researcher – as his nomination for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner. Califf won approval from a Senate panel on Tuesday, despite the action of two senators that opposed the motion.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski has vowed to stall the Senate’s vote until the agency agrees to write strict guidelines for labelling genetically modified (GM) salmon. Murkowski – a representative of Alaska – has concerns that the GM salmon could negatively impact the state’s wild salmon fishing industry.
According to Murkowski, she is irritated that she received no advanced warning of the FDA’s decision to approve the GM salmon – a decision she strongly opposed. Califf’s confirmation hearing in November was followed by the approval of the genetically modified fish just two days later.
“If they are trying to get my support, they sure fumbled that ball,” Murkowski remarked after Califf’s nomination was approved by the Senate panel. Califf is currently second-in-command at the FDA, having formerly worked at Duke University for over 30 years.
Along with Murkowski, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also opposed the nomination, though he did not attend the committee meeting. According to Sanders, the US needs an FDA commissioner who is capable of taking on the pharmaceutical industry. He believes that Califf is “not that person.”
A few other Democrats have voiced their concerns over Califf’s previous experience with the industry. Califf founded his own contract research group – the Duke University Clinical Research Institute – in 2006, which has since conducted clinical trials for many large pharmaceutical companies.
In 2014, Califf reportedly received over $29,000 in payments from drugmakers. To avoid potential conflicts of interest in his potential role as FDA Commissioner, Califf has already distanced himself from working with specific companies.
“I think if you look at my record you’ll find I’ve never been a proponent of lowering standards,” said Califf during his nomination hearing. He has reportedly declined to perform clinical trials for companies that failed to meet specific data access criteria.
Should Califf be appointed FDA Commissioner, he would take on a number of unfinished projects including food safety reform and labelling guidelines. Dr. Stephen Ostroff is currently the acting head of the agency, following Margaret Hamburg’s decision to step down as Commissioner last year.