Former FDA chiefs pressure Biden to nominate a new commissioner—and quickly

FDA Building 2
Who will lead the FDA under President Joe Biden? Former FDA chiefs are urging Biden to hurry up and make a choice. (FDA)

The clock is ticking on an FDA commissioner nomination, with public pressure on President Joe Biden to pick up the pace.

Six former FDA commissioners wrote the White House this week urging Biden to make a choice, according to several media reports.

The letter, signed by Robert Califf, Scott Gottlieb, Margaret Hamburg, Jane Henney, Mark McClellan and Andrew von Eschenbach, pushed Biden to act in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They noted vaccine, drug and testing issues related to the pandemic, as well as the need to implement new tobacco regulations, according to The Washington Post.

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Some prominent voices on social media are asking for the same clarification as the former FDA heads, while others guessed that Biden will name a candidate after his nominee for Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, is confirmed.

Science journalist and author Laurie Garrett wrote recently on Twitter that it’s not a good time for the FDA to be “leaderless,” adding that Biden “desperately needs to name his new Commissioner of the FDA, to guide the agency through #COVID19 #pandemic drug, diagnostics and vaccines approvals.”

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It’s not clear who is currently the front runner for the Biden FDA commissioner job.

The ex-commissioners did not endorse any one candidate but did praise current acting chief Janet Woodcock. An FDA veteran, Woodcock has two stints heading up the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research—from 2008 until now and from 1994 to 2005. In between, she served in the FDA commissioner’s office. Most recently she served as part of Operation Warp Speed, overseeing COVID-19 therapy development.

Woodcock proponents—including a doctor who treated the late Beau Biden, the president’s son—sent a letter to Biden in February calling her “uniquely qualified” to be commissioner. The 95 cancer physicians and experts praised her drug approval record with breakthrough medicines in cancer and other diseases.

However, the letter followed public opposition from a group of anti-opioid advocates who spoke out against a Woodcock nomination over past opioid approvals under her watch.

Early favorite Joshua Sharfstein, a deputy commissioner under President Barack Obama, has reportedly dropped out of the running.