Healio Special Report: Health Care and Politics
Healio Special Report: Health Care and Politics
October 24, 2019
2 min read

Oncologist could be next FDA commissioner nominee

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Donald Trump 2018
Donald Trump

The Trump administration is expected to announce that Stephen M. Hahn, MD, chief medical executive and professor of radiation oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, is the next FDA commissioner, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal.

The term of acting commissioner, Ned Sharpless, MD, expires Nov. 1. But if Hahn is nominated, Sharpless could stay on at the FDA until Hahn is confirmed by the Senate.

Hahn earned his medical degree from Temple University in Philadelphia and completed postgraduate training at the National Cancer Institute and the University of California, San Francisco, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center’s website. He has won awards from multiple medical societies, including the Radiological Society of North America and American Society of Radiation Oncology, and has co-authored at least 30 research papers, many of them on non-small cell lung cancer, the website states.

Raymond March
Raymond March

Hahn is an “interesting” choice for the top job at the FDA, Raymond March, PhD, research fellow at the Independent Institute and director of FDAReview.org, told Healio Primary Care.

“He is a good physician and would be a strong fit to head the NIH, a variety of cancer research centers or even the Veterans Affairs,” March continued. “He doesn't have a wealth of experience heading agencies with regulatory power and he has comparatively much less clinical research and experience than the others who were up for consideration. To manage the FDA, those are critical. Picking a commissioner on what I consider largely politicized public health issues tells me a lot about the influence of politics on medical care.”

Robert Freeman
Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman, PhD, a former professor of pharmacy administration at the University of Maryland's Eastern Shore campus, said some stakeholders had hoped “acting” would someday be removed from Sharpless’ title.

“[Hahn] didn't appear to be the choice of the FDA's various stakeholders and is basically an academic administrator, which in and of itself not a major disadvantage given the complexity and bureaucratic nature of those organizations. He's a long-time Republican donor, so I suppose that's attractive to the administration,” Freeman said in an interview.

He added that responsibilities tied to the lung injuries that have been linked to vaping could potentially take up the bulk of Hahn’s, or potentially any FDA commissioner nominee’s, time.

Arthur Caplan
Arthur Caplan

Although not familiar with Hahn, Arthur Caplan, PhD, founding head of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, told Healio Primary Care that any FDA commissioner nominee “will need to quickly secure trust of patients, industry, FDA staff and Congress.”

“Sharpless has done a very solid job as acting commissioner,” Caplan continued. “He secured the support of many experts, government officials, prior FDA commissioners and patient advocates to become the permanent commissioner. He understands research, government policymaking and kept a steady hand on the tiller at the FDA.”

The White House and HHS did not respond to Healio’s request for confirmation of The WSJ report prior to this story’s posting. – by Janel Miller

Disclosures: Healio Primary Care could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.