Robert Califf may helm the FDA, again

Oct. 15, 2021

The Biden administration is expected to nominate former FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf to once again lead the agency, according to five anonymous Washington Post sources.

Appointed by President Obama, Califf previously helmed the FDA from February 2016 to February 2017.

FDA veteran Janet Woodcock has been serving as acting commissioner since Biden was elected, but was reportedly ruled out as candidate this past August (though not officially). Under federal law, Woodcock cannot stay on as the acting head past November 15 unless a permanent commissioner has been nominated. 

The holdup in naming a formal nominee has to do with the desire for a smooth path to Senate confirmation. Woodcock, who has been at the FDA for 35 years, has faced strong opposition on Capitol Hill for the job. Yet it has seemingly been a two-person race between Woodcock and former principal deputy commissioner of FDA Josh Sharfstein.

Califf himself, along with five other former FDA commissioners, endorsed Woodcock in a letter to the Biden administration earlier this year.

When Califf was up for confirmation back in 2016, he too faced opposition from several Democrats. A leading cardiologist and researcher, at the time of nomination, Califf was vice chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University. Concerned over the opioid epidemic, Democrats criticized Califf's ties to the pharma industry, Despite that, Califf was confirmed by a vote of 89-4.