By Deena Beasley
(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump plans to nominate Dr. Stephen Hahn, chief medical executive of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, to lead the Food and Drug Administration, the White House said on Friday.
If confirmed, Hahn, a radiation oncologist who has been at MD Anderson in Houston since 2015, would succeed former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down from the post earlier this year. Hahn’s nomination passes over Ned Sharpless, a previous director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), who is currently serving as acting FDA commissioner.
Sharpless will return to his role at NCI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday.
Hahn, who had previously been head of radiation oncology at Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, would be taking over a regulatory agency that oversees products ranging from complex cancer drugs, to food, cosmetics and tobacco.
“The FDA is a massive government bureaucracy… There is a political aspect to running the FDA that is not really something that Dr. Hahn has done in the past,” said Christopher Mikson, leader of law firm Mayer Brown’s FDA regulatory practice.
“One of the reasons the Trump Administration would bring him in is because he is an outsider. He is an academic medical administrator from Texas by way of Philadelphia, not a Washington insider,” Mikson added.
Hahn worked for a few years at the NCI earlier in his career.
Gottlieb was well regarded by public health advocates and won bipartisan support for his efforts to curb youth use of flavored e-cigarettes and to speed approval for lower cost generic medicines.
E-cigarettes and vaping products also will likely be on Hahn’s agenda. Vaping products have been linked in recent months to a mysterious lung illness that has killed nearly three dozen people in the United States and sickened more than 1,600.
Other issues at the forefront of the FDA include the opioid crisis and intermittent drug shortages. The agency is also responsible for assuring the safety and effectiveness of new medicines and medical devices.
Hahn’s nomination was lauded by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Association for Cancer Research, which said in a statement it was “extremely confident that he will be an outstanding leader for the FDA.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is still uncertain of the exact cause or causes of the nationwide outbreak of lung illnesses, but most cases have been linked to vaping products containing the marijuana ingredient THC.
The FDA has said it plans to begin enforcing existing law that requires vaping products to show that they are “appropriate for the protection of public health” before they can receive marketing approval from the agency.
Several states are looking to ban flavored vaping products.
While e-cigarettes have been promoted as a means to help people quit smoking, public health officials are concerned they are being marketed to get a new generation hooked on nicotine.
(Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Bill Berkrot)