Update (December 13, 2019): Yesterday, the US Senate voted 72-18 in favor of Stephen Hahn becoming the next FDA commissioner. It has been a relatively short and sweet confirmation for the renowned lung cancer doctor, considering he was only officially nominated by US President Donald Trump one month ago. Now, Hahn will trade his white coat for a suit and tie as he begins his first high-profile political role. The question now becomes: how will the new commissioner deal with the nation’s most pressing health concerns? Can he fill the shoes of his predecessors? Where will he take the FDA next?
Originally published on November 5, 2019:
Last Friday, US President Donald Trump announced his intent on nominating Dr. Stephen Hahn of MD Anderson Cancer Center to become the 24th US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner.
Hahn is a medical and radiation oncologist whose experiences propelled him through several leadership roles at MD Anderson including division head, deputy president and chief operating officer and finally, his current position as chief medical executive.
I’m pleased that @POTUS has announced his intent to nominate Stephen Hahn to lead the @US_FDA. Stephen is a talented, experienced leader whose scientific accomplishments make him well prepared to lead FDA in its vital public health mission.
— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) November 1, 2019
With over 200 academic publications and various other accomplishments embellishing his CV, there is one thing lacking: experience in government and health policy.
Should the Senate confirm his nomination, Hahn will be tasked with addressing the rising concern over the safety of e-cigarettes, the opioid crisis, bogus health claims over cannabis-derived products and maintaining a steady stream of new drug approvals.
Under federal law, the acting commissioner can only fulfil his or her role for 210 days following the departure of the FDA commissioner — a period that expired on November 1st. Ned Sharpless, who took over as acting commissioner when Scott Gottlieb stepped down in April, will return to his former position as director of the National Cancer Institute. Gottlieb returned to former employer American Enterprise Institute and also sits on the Pfizer and Aetion board of directors.
Sharpless, who’s made strides in advancing public health, addressing the opioid crisis and preparing the public for potential medical device shortages, was also a contender for the permanent job. In fact, four former FDA commissioners and several cancer groups wrote letters to the White House to vouch for him.
Also considered was Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services. Since February 2018, Giroir worked under the wing of HHS Secretary Alex Azar, where he leads the development of public health policy recommendations. Giroir, and not Sharpless, will serve as interim FDA commissioner while the Senate completes their assessment of Hahn.
According to The Washington Post, Senator Patty Murray of Washington voiced concern over the decision to appoint Giroir to this important role. An aide said Murray’s concern spawned from Giroir’s involvement in policy changes that reduce women’s access to healthcare, specifically reproductive rights.
It’s unclear when the Senate will officially make their decision on Hahn as officials continue to perform background checks on the FDA chief hopeful.