Biden likely to nominate Verily's Rob Califf to lead the FDA again
Capping a controversially long period for the FDA to go without a permanent leader, President Joe Biden is likely to select Verily’s Rob Califf, a former FDA commissioner under President Obama, as the next FDA commissioner nominee.
A former Duke cardiologist and member of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine, Califf will be a welcome face for an agency grappling with high-profile retirements in CBER and CDER. He’ll also return to a role that he was comfortable in for a short stint at the end of Obama’s presidency. The Washington Post first reported the news.
Califf, unlike other potential nominees like acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock, isn’t likely to draw much ire from Democrats even though he’s most recently been working for Google’s Verily and as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) previously opposed his nomination. But as the agency saw more recently with Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner with industry connections who immediately followed Califf in his previous run, a former position does not necessarily affect how well one performs in the top role at FDA.
Califf’s expected nomination also caps a long and increasingly controversial tenure for Janet Woodcock at the top of FDA as an acting commissioner. In some circles of Democrats Woodcock was a nonstarter because of her backing from biopharma industry and because of her role in the opioid crisis.
As a 35-year veteran of the FDA, it’s unclear what Woodcock will do now with Califf moving to the helm of FDA. She previously led the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research since 1994, but that position has been taken by Patrizia Cavazzoni, and Woodcock might take a role related to Covid-19 as she served recently as the top leader of Operation Warp Speed’s development of therapeutics.
A source close to the decision making process said that Nirav Shah, former health commissioner for New York, and Monica Bertagnolli, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School who also works at Dana-Farber, were also vetted for the permanent FDA commissioner role.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Thursday’s press briefing, “Well, the President is definitely eager to make a decision about an FDA nominee and, of course, make that decision public once it’s made. We’re just not quite at that point yet. In terms of the timeline, I’m not aware of what exactly that timeline is.”