White House Reportedly Vetting Former FDA Commissioner Califf for Role

FDA_Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Janet Woodcock is out as a candidate to become the next commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Instead, former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf appears to be poised to resume his role atop the regulatory agency.

Califf, a cardiologist, was the last FDA Commissioner during the Barack Obama administration. He held the role from February 2016 to January 2017. According to CNN, Califf is being vetted by the administration of Joe Biden, who served as vice president to Obama. The Washington Post first reported the news Thursday afternoon.

Since Biden’s inauguration in January, Woodcock has served as acting commissioner. However, her tenure is coming to an end by law and the White House must tap a successor. Woodcock’s role as interim commissioner will end at the end of November. During her tenure, Woodcock has been marred by her support for approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, previously known as aducanumab. The drug’s approval was highly controversial due to an overwhelming rejection of the medication by the agency’s advisory committee. Following the green light for Aduhelm, three members of that advisory committee resigned in protest and Woodcock has faced calls to resign. She also faces political opposition in the U.S. Senate, which confirms White House appointments. Woodcock is also facing inquiries from a panel in the U.S. House of Representatives.

That heavy criticism is leading the White House in a new direction, or in the case of Califf, an old direction. Before his year as commissioner, Califf served as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco. Prior to his time at the FDA, Califf was a professor of medicine and vice chancellor for clinical and translational research at Duke University.  After his tenure at the FDA, Califf returned to Duke University and his role as vice chancellor.

While Califf is a strong candidate to take over as commissioner, he is not the only one being considered for the role. As BioSpace previously reported, Michelle McMurry-Heath, the president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization is also a contender. She also served the Obama administration on its Science Transition Team. McMurry-Heath is also a veteran of the FDA, having held a leadership role in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. McMurry-Heath also held roles in the pharma industry, at both Merck and Johnson & Johnson.

Another Obama-era official who is seen as a potential candidate is Joshua Sharfstein, who currently serves as vice dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In addition to appointing a new FDA commissioner, the White House will also have to appoint a new director of the National Institutes of Health, following this month’s retirement announcement from longtime director Francis S. Collins.

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