Senate confirms Dr. Stephen Hahn as FDA commissioner

The US Senate on Thursday confirmed Dr. Stephen Hahn to be the next commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. The Senate vote was 72 to 18.

Hahn, 59, is a well-known radiation oncology expert and is the current chief medical executive of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where has been a professor of radiation oncology since January 2015.

“Dr. Hahn can now get to work approving new life-saving drugs and devices, regulating tobacco and e-cigarettes, addressing the opioid crisis, ensuring pain patients can receive the medications they need and protecting our nation’s food supply,” Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander wrote in a Twitter post following the confirmation.

During Hahn’s confirmation hearing in November, multiple senators sought reassurances that Hahn would put science, data and public health over politics, and be willing to stand up to the president as well as large corporations with significant lobbying power. While the hearing addressed a range of topics such as opioids, drug pricing and generics, vaping was front-and-center.

Hahn faced pressure from senators to finalize a ban on sales of flavored vaping products. It has been three months since President Donald Trump said the FDA would put out “some very strong recommendations” regarding the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, and that policy is still yet to be seen.

Hahn agreed with senators that “this is an important, urgent crisis in this country,” but he stopped short of making promises, saying, “I’m not privy to those decision-making processes, but I very much agree and support that aggressive action needs to be taken to protect our children.” He said he has not discussed these views with the president regarding vaping flavors.

Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, pressed the issue in a written statement on Thursday.

“With data showing more than one-quarter of high school students are current users of tobacco products, it’s imperative Commissioner Hahn immediately work to advance and implement effective policies to stem the tide on this worsening epidemic. That should include clearing the marketplace of all flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol,” Lacasse said.

“Currently, there is no bigger issue facing the agency than the youth tobacco epidemic,” she said in part. “We appreciate the US Senate working in a bipartisan fashion to confirm the nomination of Dr. Hahn as the next FDA Commissioner. Through his public testimony and willingness to meet with stakeholders from the public health community, in addition to his extensive experience as an oncologist, Dr. Hahn has made it clear he is well-positioned to lead the FDA forward.”

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire said in a statement that she voted against confirming Hahn “because at his confirmation hearing, he would not commit that he would put science ahead of politics and corporate special interests. From the opioid crisis to youth e-cigarette use, we need bold and quick action from the FDA, and I will keep doing everything I can to ensure that the FDA’s responses to these urgent public health threats are free from political interference.”

Several physicians and research organizations have come out in support of Hahn’s nomination, and five previous FDA commissioners supported Hahn in a letter to senators.

The American Association for Cancer Research commended the Senate for confirming Hahn. Hahn has been a member of AACR since 1999.

“The AACR is looking forward to working closely with him and his extraordinary team at the FDA to help facilitate and expedite the development and approval of safe and effective treatments for cancer patients,” Dr. Margaret Foti, chief executive officer of the AACR, said in a written statement.

Hahn follows former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down on April 5. Dr. Ned Sharpless was acting commissioner until November 1, after which he returned to his role as the director of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, led the FDA while the Senate considered Hahn’s nomination.