President Joe Biden will soon name a new head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a crucial role who will oversee the regulation of Covid vaccines and treatments.
The role currently is held by Acting Commissioner Dr Janet Woodcock, who assumed the title in January 2021.
A full-time commissioner must be named soon, because Woodcock cannot hold the title past November, and the administration has narrowed the field down to a few choices, four people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
While the choice would have to be made soon anyways, the recent resignation of Dr Francis Collins from the National Institutes of Health made the FDA decision a more urgent matter.
‘They were ready to go anyway, but Collins’ announcement pushed them over the edge. It sounds like it’s a consensus, they think it’s a pretty uncontroversial choice.’ a source told POLITICO.
The shortlist included Woodcock, Dr Laurie Glimcher of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Dr Joshua Sharfstein of Johns Hopkins University and Michelle McMurry-Heath of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
Dr Laurie Glimcher (pictured) is among the favorites to be named FDA commissioner by President Joe Biden. She currently serves as president and CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Dr Janet Woodcock (pictured) is the Acting Commissioner of the agency, though her interim tenure is set to end next month. While she is being considered for the permanent role, she faces opposition from some Democrats in the Senate
Woodcock was named acting commissioner upon Biden’s inauguration, replacing Dr Stephen Hahn, a Trump appointee who resigned upon the start of a new administration.
She is among those being considered for the role, but a few Senators have vocally opposed her appointment to the role – Senators she would need to confirm her appointment due to the slim margin Democrats currently hold in the Senate.
Sens Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have all been critics of Woodcock.
Sen Manchin could prove to be a barrier in particular, because he has shown willingness to break from party lines.
The Senators, all from states that have struggled due to America’s opioid epidemic, place some of the blame for the problem of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research which is led by Woodcock.
Dr Glimcher is the president and CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
POLITICO reports her nomination could face a few roadblocks as well because she has industry ties that require her to divest from some of her holdings.
Dr Sharfstein is a former Obama-era FDA official who currently serves as vice dean for public health practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.
He was reportedly a finalist for commissioner of the agency under Obama, when Biden was vice president, but was eventually named Principal Deputy Commissioner of the agency.
His candidacy to become commissioner was fiercely opposed by some, and The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 that an ‘Anyone But Sharfstein’ letter had circulated some internal circles pushing against him being tapped for the position.
Dr Joshua Sharfstein (pictured) was considered for the FDA commissioner role under Obama in 2008, though missed out on the role after facing some internal opposition
Dr Michelle McMurry-Heath is another former Obama official being considered for the role. She is currently president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization
Dr McMurry-Health is also a former Obama-era FDA official, and she is currently the president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization – an advocacy group that represents over 1,000 biotech firms in more than 30 countries.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Dr Katherine Luzuriaga of the University of Massachusetts, Dr Florence Houn – another former Obama-era official – are both under consideration as well.
Whoever is tapped for the role will play a major role in ending the Covid pandemic and clearing some of the controversies the agency has recently been embroiled in.
Recently, the White House attempted to roll out Covid booster shots to all Americans starting on September 20.
The FDA did not approve the rollout, though, and more than a dozen senior officials even wrote a letter open opposing the move by the White House – a rare move from the agency.
Woodcock also called for an investigation into her own agency over alleged inappropriate communications between her staff and representatives from the biotechnology company Biogen after the controversial approval of the company’s Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm.