Dr. Robert Califf testifies during his nomination hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee November 17, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee | Getty Images
President Joe Biden announced Friday he has nominated Dr. Robert Califf to serve as the chief of the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA, currently overseen by acting Commissioner Woodcock, has been without a permanent chief since Biden took office in January. The White House reportedly ruled out Woodcock after she faced opposition from some members of Congress over her handling of opioids while at the agency.
“I first want to thank Dr. Janet Woodcock for her leadership over the last year,” Biden said in a statement. “She has done an incredible job leading the agency during what has been a busy and challenging time, and both she and the FDA career staff have worked hard and followed the science to ensure the American public can trust the decisions being made by the FDA.”
Califf, a cardiologist who works at the Duke University School of Medicine and a senior advisor to Google parent Alphabet‘s life sciences organization, was briefly the agency’s commissioner under the Obama administration beginning in 2016. He also served as deputy commissioner of the FDA’s medical products and tobacco office.
Biden said Friday that Califf had “strong bipartisan support” in the Senate in 2016 when he was confirmed by a vote of 89 to 4. “I urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Dr. Califf so he can continue the important work being done at this critical moment,” the president said.
The new selection was expected imminently because Woodcock cannot legally stay on as the acting head past Nov. 15 without a nominee to hold the position permanently.
Shortly after Biden announced his pick, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia criticized the decision, saying it made “no sense” as he claimed Califf has “significant ties to the pharmaceutical industry.”
Califf has worked as a consultant to pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Merck.
“His nomination is an insult to the many families and individuals who have had their lives changed forever as a result of addiction. I could not support Dr. Califf’s nomination in 2016 and I cannot support it now,” Manchin said.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, a major pharmaceutical trade group, praised Biden’s nomination.
“We hope the confirmation process will proceed quickly, and we look forward to continuing to work with the FDA as we fight the pandemic and other deadly diseases,” PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl said in a statement.
Biden’s nomination comes amid the ongoing Covid pandemic, which has killed at least 759,678 Americans, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The FDA has helped bring lifesaving treatments to the market and authorized the use of Covid vaccines, which have shown to be highly effective, especially against severe disease, hospitalization and death.
More than 194 million Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA has recently come under harsh criticism, though, over its decision to approve Biogen‘s Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm.