Pick the Commish: Hamburg, Gottlieb, Glimcher and Abernethy make the final four

Pills shaped like question mark
The final four candidates in FiercePharma's "Pick the Commish" voter contest are in. Check back Thursday for final two.(Getty Images)

The Fierce Pharma voter search for FDA commissioner is now down to four—with women as three of the remaining candidates.

Former FDA commissioner Peggy Hamburg, current deputy commissioner Amy Abernethy and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute CEO Laurie Glimcher were voted through to the Final Four round, along with former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb.

All four of the remaining candidates garnered positive remarks—and rave reviews in some cases—for their experience, leadership and intellect.

On Hamburg: “Well-respected leader who has been advancing the agency's mission for many years.”

On Abernethy: “Her work on real-world data for years and her excellence in technology is the focus that the FDA needs moving forward. Furthermore, as someone else said—she is phenomenally bright ... and does more between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. than most people do in a day. She is the energizer bunny, and everything she touches is left better in her wake.”

On Glimcher: “A remarkable combination of tough, smart and compassionate. A world-class scientist (still is, actually—still has an active research lab) who has led both a medical school and a cancer center with distinction, and who understands pharma and biotech by virtue of years of board experience.”

On Gottlieb: “Although Scott was initially appointed by a Republican, I do think he would do a great job. He seemed to really care about what was best. Above all else, we need someone who is science-based and willing to remove politics from FDA.”

One voter who chose all four of the advancing potential chiefs has working insight of the FDA and a personal connection to one of them—Kalah Auchincloss, Glimcher’s daughter, worked at the FDA for six years. While she saved top kudos for her mom, she complimented the others as great to work for, and in the case of Gottlieb, “fantastic.”

About her mom, however, she wrote: “Incredible scientific credentials, which the agency needs right now, and good management skills. Not as familiar with FDA as the others, but she had no academic leadership experience when she took the job at Cornell and she rocked it. Also, she’s my mom and I know she can be an effective leader!”

(Editor’s note: The votes are anonymous, but we made an educated guess and confirmed with Auchincloss.)

We're now down to the final two votes, with matches picked at random. Vote here to choose the two candidates for the final round, which we’ll announce on Thursday. Colleagues, friends and children are all welcome to chime in with your choices and opinions on who would be the best Biden administration commissioner.

Poll 1

Margaret Ann “Peggy” Hamburg, FDA commissioner from 2009-2015 under President Obama, Hamburg was only the second woman to serve in the role. She's currently foreign secretary for the National Academy of Medicine, and she's also worked at HHS and the National Institutes of Health. If the administration is looking for someone with U.S. health agency knowledge and FDA chops, Hamburg is an obvious name to consider.


Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, would be a tried-and-true pick, and stability wouldn’t be the worst thing for the U.S. drug industry right now. He garnered a plea from one Fierce Pharma reader, who wrote, “Bring back Scott Gottlieb, please.” The ex-commissioner has been outspoken during the pandemic, albeit quite politely, in noting administration missteps, but has also fiercely defended the integrity of the FDA. On the other hand, Gottlieb now serves on the Pfizer board and is considered pharma-friendly, while Biden may be looking to distance himself from the industry.

Poll 2

Laurie Glimcher currently serves as president and CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a job she chose even after being asked to consider interviewing for dean of Harvard Medical School. Glimicher is a renowned immunologist and refers to herself as a physician-scientist known for breaking glass ceilings and helping other women along the way. She's also familiar to Biden because she was part of the advisory team that helped the then-vice president craft his cancer moonshot initiative in 2016.


Amy Abernethy, an oncologist and palliative medicine physician, has served as principal deputy director and second-in-command at the FDA since 2018. She also serves as the FDA’s acting chief information officer, a potentially key set of skills as data and technology take center stage in everyday life and health. She's also familiar with the pharma industry, serving as chief medical officer of Flatiron Health before and after Roche’s acquisition of the cancer and real-world data software developer.