December 13, 2019

The Senate on Thursday voted 72-18 to confirm President Trump's nomination of Stephen Hahn to serve as FDA commissioner.

How to ensure seamless leadership transitions

Background on Hahn

Trump last month announced that he would nominate, Hahn, who was CMO of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, to serve as FDA commissioner. The post had not had a permanent leader since April, when former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb left the position.

Hahn, a radiation and medical oncologist, had served as MD Anderson Cancer Center's CMO since May 2018. Hahn previously served as the center's COO, and has been lauded for helping to restore the center's financial health. According to a White House release, Hahn also had served as a Gilbert H. Fletcher Memorial Distinguished Chair and professor of radiation oncology at MD Anderson since January 2015.

Before moving to MD Anderson, Hahn from 1989 to 1996 worked at the National Cancer Institute as a senior investigator. He then took a position at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked from 1996 to 2014. Hahn served as the university's chair of radiation oncology from 2005 to 2014.

Throughout his career, Hahn conducted various clinical trials, including studies involving proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer and combining radiation with immunotherapy. The White House release noted that Hahn "has authored 220 peer-reviewed original research articles." Hahn also holds five patents.

However, Hahn also has been involved in some controversial situations throughout his career, STAT+ reports. For instance, while working at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, Hahn appeared before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee "to deliver an in-person apology … after a doctor under his supervision implanted small radioactive 'seeds' used in some cancer treatments at the incorrect dose or in the incorrect organ in dozens of veterans," according to STAT+. In addition, Hahn "helped to extinguish concerns surrounding the recent dismissal of a small group of Chinese researchers" at MD Anderson, "assuring staff there the dismissals were driven by an ongoing federal investigation into foreign influence into research and were not racially driven," and has overseen care at MD Anderson as "[r]egulators this year … found [the center] had violated federal guidelines so severely that the regulatory failures 'substantially limit [the] hospital's capacity to render adequate care,'" STAT+ reports.

Senate confirms Hahn as FDA commissioner

Forty-nine Republicans and 23 Democrats voted to confirm Hahn as FDA commissioner, while 17 Democrats voted against the confirmation.

Several Democrats who voted against Hahn's confirmation had raised concerns about FDA's actions toward regulating the tobacco industry and e-cigarettes, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Hahn during a confirmation hearing last month did not provide details on actions he would take to address growing e-cigarette use, but said he supports "aggressive action to protect [U.S.] children" and would use "science and data" to make decisions on the matter. When asked whether he would try to implement a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, Hahn said he did not have "all the facts" on such a proposal, and therefore did not want to "prejudge" it (McGinley, Washington Post, 12/12; Kaplan, New York Times, 12/12; Lienhard/Wang, Inside Health Policy, 12/12 [subscription required]; Facher, STAT+, 11/1 [subscription required]).

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