On Tuesday Dr. Robert Califf, a cardiologist and clinical researchers with a long affiliation with Duke University, was nominated by the Obama administration to be the next commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dr. Califf has had a long distinguished academic career which will attract no opposition from the Senate before his confirmation. He served at Duke University Medical Center from 1982-2015 in multiple positions including director of the cardiac care unit. In 2006 he was instrumental in founding the Duke University Clinical Research Institute and has been associated with many committees of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, according to the New York Times.
Dr. Califf, 63, became the deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco at the FDA in March. The position he is on the brink of fulfilling will require him to become an authority on everything from drugs and food to medical devices and tobacco.
In the position of commissioner, Dr. Califf will be facing extremely difficult questions on public health issues including current ones of opioid painkiller abuse, obesity and the spike in electronic cigarettes. Also on the brink of new discoveries that would be under his supervision is the area of genetics and how they are transforming treatments..
“He’s never forgotten that at his core he’s a doctor, and he cares deeply about providing evidence to help people take better care of patients,” said Dr. Robert Harrington, professor and chairman of the department of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who worked with Dr. Califf at Duke.
While there are many who publicly support his nomination, there are critics that are wondering if his extensive clinical experience would translate seamlessly to a broader role in protecting the health of all Americans.
“He is the consensus choice of an academic-industry nexus that is increasingly centered at Duke,” said Daniel Carpenter, a Harvard University political scientist who studies the F.D.A. He said the pharmaceutical industry had farmed out a significant amount of research and clinical trials to Duke. This is common practice in the drug world, but Professor Carpenter said it could have shaped Dr. Califf’s approach. “Many will worry that he has little public health experience,” Professor Carpenter said.