The U.S. Senate voted 72-18 to confirm Stephen Hahn as the commissioner of the FDA, providing the agency with another commissioner with a deep background in oncology. Hahn succeeds Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down from the post in April and returned to the American Enterprise Institute.
Hahn, who has served as the chief medical executive at the MD Anderson Cancer Institute in Houston since 2018, was nominated by President Donald Trump on Nov. 1, a move that came at the end of Ned Sharpless’ time as the acting FDA commissioner. Sharpless had switched temporarily from the National Cancer Institute, but Hahn is the third acting or full-time FDA commissioner to bring an oncology portfolio with him in recent years. Andrew von Eschenbach served as the FDA commissioner between December 2006 and January 2009 after taking over at the NCI in 2001.
The landslide vote for Hahn came despite reservations by some in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Several members of the committee questioned the then-candidate on his position on drug reimportation, a proposal for which Hahn indicated support, assuming such practices could be accompanied by assurances regarding the supply chain. Hahn also declined to directly address questions about the FDA pre-certification program for software as a medical device, the subject of correspondence between three Senate Democrats and the agency.
The enthusiasm for Hahn was immediate upon the vote, with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) making note of Hahn’s administrative experience in a Dec. 12 statement. Alexander, who chairs the HELP Committee, also pointed to the support for Hahn from five previous FDA commissioners. “Dr. Hahn can now get to work approving new life-saving drugs and devices, regulating tobacco and e-cigarettes, addressing the opioid crisis, ensuring pain patients can receive the medications they need and protecting our nation’s food supply,” Alexander said.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar thanked the Senate “for prioritizing” the candidate’s nomination, adding that the development “will be a major boost to the already rapid pace of the President’s aggressive public health agenda.”
While the overall vote tally was a landslide, the opposition to Hahn was largely partisan, with only 23 Democrats joining 49 Republicans voting in the affirmative. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) voted against the confirmation, as she indicated in the Senate confirmation hearing. Murray was one of the three senators who authored the letter to the FDA regarding the software pre-cert program.