Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday chose cancer-fighting physician and surgeon general nominee Robert Califf to lead the US Food and Drug Administration.
“Dr. Califf brings with him the deep respect of senior stakeholders across the health sector and beyond,” Biden said in a statement, commending Califf for his work as a “disciplined researcher, distinguished oncologist, a fierce advocate for drug safety and accessibility, and fearless champion for more research on cancer.”
Califf will take over from Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down earlier this month, after serving as the agency’s deputy commissioner since 2015.
CNN reported exclusively on Friday that Biden’s office was making plans to choose Califf, a cancer specialist at Duke University School of Medicine who led a high-profile panel as chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s Cancer Moonshot Task Force.
Califf previously served as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, where he advocated for more drug funding and help to navigate the government’s complex health care system.
A statement from the group said it welcomed the nomination of a physician “who would be a force for good and promise to be an inspiration for our members, physicians, patients and the hundreds of thousands of clinicians, researchers, community-based leaders and legal experts who will be working with the FDA.”
“The clinical research community is excited for Dr. Califf’s appointment,” the statement said. “He brings with him a global perspective that will help strengthen and support FDA’s role in fostering cures and improved care.”
Califf also faces strong industry ties, as his group’s decision last year to revise its mission statement to describe itself as focusing on product development and information about medical products made it hard for the FDA to accurately assess them.
In a post on his blog last year, he reflected on the prospect of being confirmed and again described himself as an advocate for drug and device approval.
“Dr. Califf’s commitment to ensuring that physicians and patients have the information necessary to make critical medical decisions will be a tremendous asset as he works to lead FDA to be a leader in next-generation drug development and the U.S. medical device market,” the statement from the American Society of Clinical Oncology said.
“We hope Dr. Califf will continue to use his work to advocate for greater access to clinically effective, life-saving and life-changing therapies.”
HealthCare.com senior writer Ron Pollack was surprised by the news, given how big of a fight Biden has taken on with the pharmaceutical industry over the cost of prescription drugs. Califf, who is a physician, likely won’t have much interaction with the industry.
“But it comes at a tough time when Biden has been working with the drug industry to help lower the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs,” Pollack said. “For that reason, he was going to have to pick someone who had a strong background in the pharmaceutical industry, who would not get too close.”
Aside from spending more time with members of the health care industry, Pollack said it also makes sense that Biden, whose mother was a pediatrician, would pick someone who could better understand the challenges facing America’s pediatricians.
“It’s a big shift to turn over leadership at the FDA to someone who’s not a chemist,” Pollack said. “It’s a big risk to make this change.”
CNN reached out to Califf’s office Sunday but he did not immediately return.
By Tami Luhby, CNN