On Nov. 1, President Donald J. Trump announced that he would nominate Stephen M. Hahn to be the new head of the US Food & Drug Administration.
Hahn, a radiation oncologist, is the chief medical executive of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. If confirmed to lead the FDA, he would inherit several significant public health issues, including vaping illnesses and deaths, drug shortages, drug contamination concerns, and the use and misuse of opioids.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, tweeted that he was looking forward to talking to Hahn about his plans to address vaping illnesses and youth e-cigarette use. However, with a presidential election looming next year, Hahn may have only a short period to address those and other issues.
Hahn has several years of experience as an administrator at MD Anderson and the University of Pennsylvania. As a scientist, he studies the efficacy of radiation therapy, as well as the tumor microenvironment of lung cancer and sarcoma.
Several professional medical societies with which Hahn has been affiliated have praised his nomination, urging for a rapid confirmation.
“He possesses the qualities needed to successfully lead the FDA,” Theodore DeWeese of the American Society for Radiation Oncology, an organization of which Hahn was once a board member, says in a statement. Hahn has “intelligence, medical and scientific expertise, an engaging style and a clear sense of how to get to the right answer, particularly in complicated situations,” DeWeese adds.
Hahn has not shied away from controversy. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Hahn flew to Washington, DC, to apologize for a botched cancer radiation treatment that several veterans received from one of the medical center’s doctors. He also took responsibility for fixing violations at MD Anderson that threatened its Medicare reimbursement.
The top seat at the FDA has turned over frequently during the Trump administration. Hahn would be the fifth person to lead the agency since Trump took office. Stephen Ostroff was acting commissioner when Trump became president. Ostroff remained in the post until Trump’s first nominee, physician Scott Gottlieb, was confirmed and took the helm in May 2017. Gottlieb resigned in April 2019 and joined the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. US National Cancer Institute director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless became acting commissioner upon Gottlieb’s resignation; on Nov. 1, the Trump administration announced that Sharpless would be returning to the institute. US Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary Brett Giroir, who had been considered a contender for the role of FDA commissioner along with Sharpless, was appointed the new acting head of the FDA.
Hahn’s appointment will need to be confirmed by the Senate, which has not yet set a hearing date.