Stephen Hahn confirmed as new FDA chief
The Senate has voted 72-18 to confirm Stephen Hahn as the nation’s 24th commissioner of food and drugs, ushering in a longtime researcher and medical executive that faced little backlash in the confirmation process but was widely seen as a secondary choice for those around the agency.
Four ex-FDA chiefs and dozens of high-profile groups had publicly endorsed for the job acting commissioner Ned Sharpless, who served from Scott Gottlieb’s surprise departure through November 1, when President Donald Trump officially nominated Hahn. Gottlieb also gave his support to Sharpless on Twitter.
Brett Giroir has acted as commissioner since Sharpless’s departure.
The MD Anderson exec, though, largely sailed through his confirmation hearings last month. Continually extolling the virtues of science, data and transparency, Hahn evaded firm answers on questions about drug pricing, opioids and e-cigarettes that have become issues of national debate.
“I’m very much in favor of transparency,” he said in response to a question from Republican Senator Susan Collins on AbbVie’s controversial strategy to keep its Humira patents through 2023.
The vague stance – not uncommon for any confirmation hearing – fell well short of costing him the job but was a factor in how some senators voted. Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan cited non-committal answers Hahn gave on e-cigarettes and the agency’s history with opioids in her “no” vote.
“The Food and Drug Administration has an essential mission to protect the health and safety of all Americans – and its leaders must make decisions based on science, not political influence,” Hassan said in a statement.
Many groups long close with the agency, including the American Association for Cancer Research, supported Hahn once he was nominated and publicly welcomed the confirmation.
“The AACR is looking forward to working closely with him and his extraordinary team at the FDA to help facilitate and expedite the development and approval of safe and effective treatments for cancer patients,” they said in a statement.
Hahn comes with experience in oncology’s most cutting edge therapies, but he’s found himself in controversy before, most recently when Chinese researchers were dismissed from MD Anderson, raising questions about racial profiling.
He steps into an FDA that faces its own bevy of questions, including as to whether the agency’s push to get drugs to patients as fast as possible has gone too far.