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White House Nominates Cardiologist Robert Califf As Next FDA Commissioner

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The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it is backing Duke University cardiologist Dr. Robert Califf's bid to become the next commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

While aspirants to the post must receive a confirmation from the U.S. Senate, experts believe that Califf will not face any serious opposition because of his distinguished career in the academe, with most of his achievements coinciding with his tenure in Duke.

The 63-year-old heart specialist and clinical researcher served at the Duke University Medical Center in different capacities between 1982 and 2015. Califf also served as the director of the university's cardiac care unit.

In 2006, Califf established the Clinical Research Institute in Duke University and became the institute's first director.

He has also been involved in various professional organizations such as health committees of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

In March, Califf was named one of the FDA's deputy commissioners for tobacco and drug products.

If Califf's nomination is confirmed, the veteran doctor will assume the leadership of one of the far-reaching agencies of the federal government, which deals with the regulation of the food, medicines, tobaccos and medical devices.

As FDA commissioner, Califf is also expected to deal with difficult questions regarding some of the largest public health issues today, including obesity, the epidemic regarding opioid drug abuse and the increase in numbers of electronic cigarette users.

He would also have to lead the food and drug agency through a period in U.S. history in which recent discoveries in the field of genetics are starting to transform treatments and making them much more industrialized than before.

Califf's colleague, Dr. Robert Harrington, of the Stanford University School of Medicine, said that Califf has always remembered that he is a doctor at his core. He also described Califf as someone who deeply cares about providing better health care to his patients.

Despite Califf's extensive experience in clinical settings, some observers expressed doubts whether he could utilize them to provide a broader role regarding the protection of the American public's health.

Political scientist Daniel Carpenter at Harvard University pointed out that Califf appears to be the consensus choice of a group of academic-industry members that is mostly centered at Duke University.

Carpenter added that the pharmaceutical industry in the United States had farmed out a large amount of clinical trials and research to Duke, which he considers a common practice in the world of drug manufacturing that has influenced Califf's approach.

The incoming FDA commissioner will replace Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg who had steered the food and drug agency for almost six years. Dr. Stephen Ostroff has served as the acting commissioner of the FDA following Hamburg's resignation in March.

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