Azar keen on nominating Brett Giroir, divisive assistant HHS secretary, to top job at FDA — report
HHS secretary Alex Azar reportedly has his eye on nominating Brett Giroir — controversially confirmed as assistant secretary of HHS last year — to head the FDA as judgment day on Ned Sharpless’ term as acting commissioner looms.
President Donald Trump must make a decision about the commissioner of food and drugs by November 1, as mandated by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 that entitles a Senate-confirmed position to be filled in an acting capacity for a maximum of 210 days, after the position is vacated. The effervescent Scott Gottlieb resigned as FDA commissioner earlier this year, departing officially on April 5.
Sharpless, a physician/scientist who previously served as head of the National Cancer Institute, was widely seen as Gottlieb’s chosen successor and was warmly embraced by the biopharma industry when he ascended to the FDA throne. Backing him will be a smoother choice by the White House.
A report by BioCentury — which reported Azar is keen on Giroir, citing administration officials — has also suggested influential patient groups are circulating a letter urging Trump to pick Sharpless permanently.
Unlike Sharpless who is generally seen as party-agnostic, Giroir is unabashedly Republican — his stance on reproductive rights sparked Democratic opposition that held up his confirmation as assistant HHS secretary for months. He was whisked into the Trump administration by former Texas Governor and current Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, BioCentury noted.
His appointment as FDA commissioner will trigger concerns that the agency will end up entangled in the tentacles of politics regarding drug importation, reproductive and women’s health, FDA civil servants told BioCentury.
Endpoints News has contacted Azar and Gottlieb for comment on the report.
Giroir, a Texas pediatrician, supervises HHS’ Office of Population Affairs, which administers Title X grants — funding for family planning clinics and reproductive health services — as well as the Office of Adolescent Health, which oversees the teen pregnancy prevention program.
Under Giroir, the HHS launched a review into the use of fetal tissue for research last year. This June, medical research funding for NIH scientists using fetal tissue — harvested from dead fetuses, from induced or natural abortions — was aborted. Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood rejected Title X funding — in response to a gag rule imposed by the Trump administration that curtails recipients from giving abortion referrals.
After securing confirmation to take on the role of HHS assistant secretary, Giroir left his post as chief of Texas-based biotech ViraCyte (now renamed AlloVir), which is developing immunotherapies for viral diseases.
The hope is the Trump administration does, in fact, take steps to nominate a permanent successor — whether Sharpless, Giroir or another person altogether. Of 731 key leadership positions (out of roughly 1,200 positions) requiring Senate confirmation — 145 positions have no nominee chosen by the Trump administration, according to a tracker set up by The Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization.