By Nathalie Voit
The U.S. Senate narrowly voted to confirm President Joe Biden’s pick for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf on Feb. 15.
The prominent cardiologist was selected to lead the FDA for the second time on Tuesday despite his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Califf faced GOP opposition to his liberal views on birth control, which some senators had argued rendered him unfit for the role, according to Reuters.
Califf, who previously served as FDA Commissioner from 2016-2017, won the final vote 50-46.
The experienced clinical trialist relied on six Republican votes to secure his confirmation after five Democrats refused to support him, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sen. Sanders accused the Duke University cardiologist of participating in a “revolving door” between the FDA and Big Pharma.
“At a time when the American people pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs and as drug companies continue to be the most powerful special interest in Washington, we need leadership at the FDA that is finally willing to stand up to the greed and power of the pharmaceutical industry,” said the senator on Dec. 14, shortly after Biden announced Califf for the nomination.
“Not only have the drug companies spent over $4.5 billion on lobbying and hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions over the past 20 years, they also have created a revolving door between the FDA and the industry. Shockingly, nine out of the last ten FDA Commissioners went on to work for the pharmaceutical industry or to serve on a prescription drug company’s board of directors.”
Other senators were more supportive of the White House nominee.
“Dr. Califf is a supremely qualified nominee with bipartisan support,” said the ranking Republican on the Senate health committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), according to CNBC.
Califf was also endorsed by six former FDA chiefs who lamented the vacuum of leadership in the agency following the yearlong absence of a permanent commissioner.
“Confirming Dr. Califf is critical not only for moving beyond the Covid-19 emergency, but also to help meet FDA’s many other major regulatory responsibilities where Senate confirmed leadership is essential for the nation’s wellbeing,” wrote Drs. Scott Gottlieb, Stephen Hahn, and four other former commissioners in a December letter to the Senate Health Committee, CNBC reported.