The White House announced today that President Biden has chosen Robert Califf to be the new Director of the Food and Drug Administration. Califf is presently a senior advisor for parent firm Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences and Google Health departments. He was hired in 2019 to oversee the organisations’ health strategy and policies.
Califf, a cardiologist, was formerly the FDA commissioner during the Obama administration’s last year. In addition, he established the Duke Clinical Research Institute, which conducts clinical studies.
“It is critically important that we have a firm, impartial hand to lead the FDA as it examines numerous significant choices concerning vaccine approvals and more,” Biden said in a statement. “I am optimistic that Dr. Califf will ensure that the FDA continues to make decisions based on research and evidence.”
Consumer activists are already questioning Califf’s ties to pharmaceutical giants like Merck and Eli Lilly, and they were a point of contention for a number of senators during his first confirmation process in 2016. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted against Califf’s confirmation at the time, and stated in a statement today that he’ll vote against him again, citing Califf’s “strong links to the pharmaceutical business” as a reason.
Californiaf’s links to Alphabet might potentially be a source of contention if the firm expands its healthcare offerings. A Verily COVID-19 testing program (which failed and raised data privacy issues), a Google app to diagnose skin disorders, personal health records, and machine learning projects are among its health initiatives. The FDA is entrusted by Alphabet with approving medical functions on smartwatches like Fitbits and a Verily test wearable.
According to a Verily spokesman, Califf presently consults business leaders at Verily and Google Health on the clinical aspects of new products. It is unclear if he will resign from those posts.