Stephen Hahn is Front-Runner to Take Over the FDA, Reports Say

manager to leader

MD Anderson’s chief medical executive Stephen J. Hahn is the frontrunner for the next commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to multiple reports, President Donald Trump is set to pick Hahn, a noted radiation oncologist, as the successor to Scott Gottlieb, who resigned from his role in March. Hahn is expected to be nominated following background checks, according to BioCentury, which first broke the news. A permanent replacement for Gottlieb or a new interim commissioner must be named by Nov. 1, according to terms of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

If Hahn is nominated, as appears likely, acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless will remain in place throughout the confirmation hearings. If Hahn passes through the Republican-led Senate, then Sharpless can return to his role at the National Cancer Institute. Sharpless was tapped to take over as interim commissioner at the FDA shortly after Gottlieb announced his intention to resign.

Hahn was named deputy president and chief operating officer in 2017. In that role, he’s responsible for the day-to-day operations of the famed cancer center. He was promoted to that role two years after joining MD Anderson as division head, department chair and professor of Radiation Oncology.

Prior to MD Anderson, Hahn served as head of the radiation oncology department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Hahn’s name first surfaced as a candidate for the FDA commissioner job in early September. According to Politico, Hahn met with the president at the end of the summer about the role. According to that report, since the meeting, Hahn has been the “consensus choice” between the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services helmed by former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar. Others who had been considered for the role include Sharpless and Harvard dermatology professor Alexa Boer Kimball, Politico said. Sharpless had been the top choice to remain in the role of FDA Commissioner from members of the medical community and three former FDA Commissioners, including Mark McClellan and Robert Califf, according to a letter sent to HHS. Gottlieb was also a supporter of Sharpless but did not openly endorse him in the letter due to “post-employment restrictions,” the Washington Post reported.

Hahn, as Politico points out, is a longtime donor to the Republican Party but has accepted little money from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Sharpless, in contrast, is a known donor to the Democratic Party and has given to opponents of both of North Carolina’s Republican senators. Sharpless is a North Carolina native and ran a laboratory at the University of North Carolina.

While Hahn is well-respected, he was briefly entangled in accusations of racial-profiling earlier this year at MD Anderson following the termination of some Chinese-born researchers who were accused of research espionage at the behest of China. During an MD Anderson town hall meeting following the terminations, which were part of a broader concern regarding intellectual property theft, Hahn attempted to reassure employees that racial profiling is something that the leadership at MD Anderson abhors and would not stoop to using.

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