Dr. Stephen Hahn, a chief medical executive at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, likely will be the next Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Commissioner.

President Donald J. Trump has nominated Dr. Hahn to be the next FDA Commissioner, and U.S.Senate will likely, eventually, confirm the nomination.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, said he is looking forward to meeting with Hahn and scheduling his confirmation hearing. Alexander chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Senator Patty Murray, D-WA, is the ranking member of the HELP Committee. She and other Democrats are going to have many questions during the confirmation process.

Dr. Ned Sharpless, FDA’s acting commissioner since Dr. Scott Gottlieb stepped down last April, is also returning to his role as director of the National Cancer Institute. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act limited Sharpless to 210 days as acting FDA Commissioner.

And Senator Murray appears more concerned at the moment about Dr. Brett Giroir taking over as acting FDA Commission until Hahn’s confirmation for the top job.

Gottlieb stepped down after just under 23 months on the job. He said he quit because his wife and daughters were too far away. They remained on the family estate in Connecticut, while the FDA Commissioner’s office is just outside Washington, D.C. in suburban Maryland.

Murray says Dr. Giroir has a “track record of letting ideology-driven decisions at the expense of women and children. She promises to “hold him accountable while he serves in this role.”

Murray says she will “be vetting Dr. Hahn thoroughly to determine whether he is qualified  for this position and committed to serving families prioritizing science and upholding the Food and Drug Administration’s gold standard for product safety and effectiveness.”

Hahn is a professor of radiation oncology. He has been the chief medical executive at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston since 2015.

MD Anderson is the largest cancer center in the United States and among the largest in the world with a $5.2 billion budget and 20,300 employees. It served more than 141,000 patients in 2018.

If he is confirmed as FDA Commissioner, he will be responsible for a slightly larger organization with a $5.7 billion budget with a staff of 17,000. In addition to food and drugs, the FDA is responsible for the regulation of medical devices, tobacco, alcohol, veterinary produces, vaccines, blood and more.

Hahn is credited with helping pull MD Anderson out of a financial crisis in 2018. He identified the problem and took corrective action, which did result in layoffs. He also fixed problems that could have led to MD Anderson’s being ineligible for medicare reimbursements.

MD Anderson hired Hahn in 2015 to run its radiation oncology division. He was appointed chief medical executive in June 2018. He was previously chairman of radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine from 2005 to 2014.

Hahn is married with four children.   He’s made contributions to Republican candidates but has little in the way of financial connections to either the medical device or drug industries.

Former FDA Commissioners urged the President to name Sharpless to the FDA post on a permanent basis.   As the Hahn appointment moves through the nomination process, Senators will likely milk all the hot button issues they can for all the publicity they can get.   And there is no shortage of these, including vaping, opioids, and drug approval delays.

Food and food safety issues rarely get much attention in these nominations. Sharpless was acting FDA Commissioner when the agency recently kept quiet about a 4th E.coli outbreak involving Romaine lettuce.  The Senate could use the confirmation process to find out if Hahn is committed to transparency.


Opinion

Editors’ note: At this time, the credibility of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not to be trusted. Both agencies have shown a reckless disregard for the public’s right to know, and their reliability going forward remains suspect.