Obama's pick for FDA chief clears a Senate panel on the way to likely approval

Robert Califf

Robert Califf, a Duke University cardiologist in line to become the next FDA commissioner, won over a Senate panel and is on his way to final confirmation. He's slated to follow Margaret Hamburg as head of the agency.

With Tuesday's panel nod, Califf's nomination will soon come up for a Senate vote, which is widely expected to come through in his favor. Two senators--Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders--have objected to his nomination and threatened to block his approval, but neither is likely to stand in Califf's way.

Throughout the slow confirmation process, Califf has repeatedly had to defend his long-running ties to biopharma. Califf has straddled the line between academia and industry throughout his career, serving as the founding director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, an in-house CRO that employs more than 1,000 people and has an annual budget of more than $100 million, according to the school. That role put Califf in business with all of the world's largest drugmakers, suggesting a coziness with the pharma industry that has made Sanders and other Democrats uncomfortable.

Califf has been in line for the top job at the FDA since early 2014, when Hamburg appointed him deputy commissioner and, a month later, announced her impending resignation. President Barack Obama made his nomination official in September.

- read more from the Associated Press