publication date: Nov. 1, 2019

Breaking News

Sharpless to return to NCI as Hahn gets nominated as FDA commissioner, with Giroir to serve as acting

By Alex Carolan

President Donald Trump has announced his intention to nominate Stephen M. Hahn to the position of FDA commissioner Nov. 1.

HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir is expected to serve as FDA acting commissioner while Hahn goes through the confirmation process, multiple Washington sources said.

Hahn is the chief medical executive at MD Anderson Cancer Center and a professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology. Giroir, an admiral, became HHS assistant secretary in February, despite opposition from Democrats because of his conservative approach to reproductive rights.

At this writing, Acting FDA Commissioner Norman “Ned” Sharpless is expected to return to his previous position as director of NCI.

As of Nov. 1, Sharpless has served as acting commissioner for 210 days, reaching the limit of a stint he can legally serve under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (The Cancer Letter, Oct. 11). Sharpless would have been able to remain acting commissioner once Hahn is nominated, but instead, Giroir is expected to take on this role in the interim.

Douglas R. Lowy has served as NCI acting director since Sharpless’s move to FDA seven months ago (The Cancer Letter, March 8).

Hahn’s appearance as an alternative to Sharpless came as a surprise to Washington insiders. In September, 56 cancer groups and four former FDA commissioners urged President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar to nominate Sharpless to the top job at the agency.

The letter from the cancer groups is posted here.

The letter from past FDA commissioners is posted here.

Hahn will need to go through a two-to-three-month clearance process and then Senate confirmation, leaving him with less than a year to serve as commissioner before Trump’s presidential term ends (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 6). Optimistically, it takes around six months to get a real understanding for the job, past commissioners say.

Hahn would also be taking a pay cut. As acting FDA commissioner, he will earn $155,500, federal disclosures show. His most recently reported compensation at MD Anderson added up to $1.3 million.

As NCI director, Sharpless earned $375,000 a year, which roughly matched his earnings as director of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Neither Sharpless nor Hahn have given extensively to political causes.

Federal Election Commission records show that Sharpless has made campaign contributions to Democrats, including a $250 contribution to the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008 and a $500 contribution to the Obama Victory Fund in 2012.

Sharpless’s connection to the White House—and his appointment to the job of NCI director—came through Ronald DePinho, his lab chief at Harvard (The Cancer Letter, June 16, 2017).

Most of Hahn’s political contributions were made to radiology and radiation oncology societies.

Hahn contributed $250 to Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat in 2008, $206 to Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, and in 2017, he gave $1,000 to New Pioneers PAC, a Republican group.

Hahn’s connection to the administration isn’t publicly known.

Paul Goldberg contributed to this story.

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