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Obama Nominates Dr. Robert Califf to Lead FDA

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Sep 16, 2015

President Barack Obama has nominated the Food and Drug Administration's second-highest ranking official, Dr. Robert Califf, to lead the agency, which regulates consumer products ranging from medications to seafood to cigarettes.

The White House announced the move on Sept. 15 in a statement naming officials nominated for various federal posts. If confirmed by the Senate, Califf would take over at a critical time for the agency, which is under pressure from Congress to streamline regulations for medical products.

Califf spent most of his career in academia, but is well versed in FDA issues, especially the clinical testing of drugs and medical devices. He previously served on expert committees that advise the FDA and was considered for the commissioner's job at least twice before — once under President George W. Bush and once earlier in the Obama administration.

The commissioner position is subject to pressure from assorted outside interests, such as multinational corporations, politicians, consumer advocates and medical professionals. Most of the recent FDA commissioners have stayed on the job for less than three years.

If named head of the FDA, Califf would inherit various projects and potential challenges, including ongoing food safety and labeling reforms, unfinished tobacco regulations and proposals from Republican lawmakers focused on streamlining drug reviews.

Califf's background as a drug researcher could make him receptive to some of the reforms coming out of Congress, though he hasn't testified or spoken publicly about the legislation.

Currently the FDA's chief scientist, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, is serving as acting head of the agency.