The Senate committee charged with reviewing the nomination of Dr. Stephen Hahn as the next FDA Commissioner has approved his appointment by an 18-to-5 vote, sending the nomination to a Senator floor vote. If confirmed by the full Senate, Hahn will succeed Scott Gottlieb to become the 24th FDA Commissioner in the history of the United States.
The successful Committee vote follows the Nov. 20 confirmation hearing by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Since the two events, some healthcare groups that first supported acting commissioner Ned Sharpless for the job came out for Hahn.
That support helped tilt the Committee vote in Hahn’s favor. During the confirmation hearing, Hahn did not have as strong as support as he did by the time of the committee vote.
But by the time the vote occurred, HELP Committee members heard favorable recommendations from some 40 organizations that influence these kinds of votes, including Friends of Cancer Research to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) to the National Patient Advocate Foundation.
Gottlieb supported Sharpless as his successor, who was also the choice of FDA’s former leaders including Robert Califf and Margaret Hamburg along with powerful organizations like the Friends of Cancer Research, the National Brain Tumor Society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
President Donald J. Trump, however, had other ideas, namely Hahn, who is chief medical executive of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. Hahn has played a key role in the research and treatment facilities’ major restructuring to cope with the financial crisis. The clinician, board-certified in radiation oncology, medical oncology, and internal medicine, is a key player in MD Anderson’s leadership.
FDA Commissioners often arrive with more experience in drugs and medical devices than food, and Hahn is no different. Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, has drawn Hahn out by submitting written food policy questions to him. He responded to one about sodium levels by saying he’d follow the “best science” on the issue.
On another, he acknowledged he has some learning to do on food safety but is committed to keeping the U.S. the safest and most secure food supply in the world. Six Democrats voted in committee to support Hahn’s confirmation. Murray was not among them.
A Senate vote on the Hahn confirmation is likely before year’s end.