Trump set to pick MD Anderson's Hahn as FDA chief: reports

Stephen Hahn (MD Anderson Cancer Center)

President Donald Trump is poised to nominate Stephen Hahn as the next commissioner of the FDA, according to BioCentury. Hahn, a radiation oncologist, is chief medical executive of the MD Anderson Cancer Center and reportedly the preferred pick of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar.

Multiple reports have now identified Hahn as the most likely person to replace Scott Gottlieb as the next permanent commissioner of the FDA. Early last month, Politico Pro named Hahn as the “clear frontrunner,” adding that he was the only one of the three finalists to meet with Trump in person. The BioCentury report and a subsequent article in Stat also said Hahn is set to get the nomination.

All the reports note that Hahn still needs to complete background checks. If Hahn passes the checks, Trump will nominate him as FDA commissioner and the Senate confirmation process will begin.

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Hahn’s background differs from those of his predecessors. Gottlieb did a stint at the FDA before coming back to take the top job. And Margaret Hamburg and Robert Califf, who held leadership roles during the Obama years, each had public health policy experience from time spent at the HHS and FDA, respectively.

In contrast, Hahn has spent the vast majority of his career at academic medical centers, starting out at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1990s before arriving at MD Anderson to lead the radiation oncology division about five years ago. 

Some prominent people had called for Trump to make more of a continuity pick by nominating Ned Sharpless, who is serving as interim commissioner. Former FDA commissioners including Gottlieb lobbied for Sharpless to get the position on a permanent basis, as did more than 50 groups involved in cancer and other areas affected by the agency.

That lobbying looks to have failed, suggesting Sharpless will return to the National Cancer Institute and Hahn will take the top job at the FDA. A sizable slice of Hahn’s inbox upon arrival at the FDA is likely to focus on issues unrelated to biopharma as the agency’s handling of vaping is in the spotlight.  

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