- The Senate Health Committee on Tuesday advanced Robert Califf's nomination for FDA commissioner by voice vote. His nomination will go to the full Senate for final consideration.
- In a statement following the vote, presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said, "we need a leader at the FDA who is prepared to stand up to the drug companies...Dr. Califf is not that person."
- Sanders is considering placing a procedural hold on Califf's nomination, according to an aide speaking to Politico. A hold would make it difficult for the Senate to vote on the nomination without intervention by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
In a November Health Committee hearing discussing Califf's nomination, Senators questioned his ties to the pharmaceutical industry stemming from his tenure at Duke University. Califf oversaw major clinical trials while at Duke, such as J&J's Xarelto. Pharma companies have previously paid him over $200,000 in consulting fees, although Califf donated that money to charities.
Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) were the most vigorous in pressing Califf on his independence, which Califf defended vigorously.
After the affirmative voice vote on Tuesday, Senator Sanders released a statement saying, "[Califf's] extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry give me no reason to believe that he would make the FDA work for ordinary Americans, rather than pharmaceutical industry CEOs."
Going further, Sanders took to Twitter and posted a sequence of five tweets railing against the cost of prescription drugs.
It is unacceptable that the monthly cost of cancer drugs has more than doubled over the last ten years to $9,900.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 12, 2016
Separately, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also said she may hold up a full Senate vote on Califf over salmon labeling concerns. In November, the FDA approved genetically modified salmon, angering Murkowski—who sees genetically modifed salmon as a threat to Alaska's wild salmon industry.
The FDA currently has draft guidance for labeling of food derived from genetically modififed salmon out for public comment. The comment period closes January 25, 2016.
It is uncertain when the full Senate will take up Califf's nomination for consideration. If either Sanders or Murkowski placed a hold on Califf, the timeline would be lengthened.