Oncologist Stephen Hahn reportedly poised to be next FDA chief

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags Fda Cbd Hemp

President Trump is poised to nominate Oncologist Dr. Stephen Hahn to head the Food and Drug Administration, pending completion of the vetting process, several news outlets are reporting.

Hahn is the chief medical executive at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. About a month ago, he was interviewed by Trump. So far he is the only candidate to be interviewed in-person for the position and according to Politico​, Hahn is the "clear frontrunner" for the position.

Hahn is a longtime GOP donor but, unlike some past FDA commissioners, has accepted relatively little money from the drug and medical device industries. The Texas doctor would replace Dr. Ned Sharpless, who has acted as FDA commissioner since Dr. Scott Gottlieb left the post in April. The Trump administration’s decision is seen as a slap in the face to four former FDA commissioners and several advocacy organizations, all of whom advocated for Sharpless to be named the permanent agency head.

“I like acting,” President Trump said in January​ of having administrators serving in 'acting' positions. “It gives me more flexibility. Do you understand that? I like acting. So we have a few that are acting. We have a great, great cabinet.”

By law, the Trump administration must formally nominate a long-term FDA commissioner by November 1st because federal laws limit acting officials to 210 days in Senate-confirmed positions. 

The future of dietary supplements  

Will the FDA preserve a food and nutrition policy that promotes public health goals? Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., CEO and President of the Natural Products Association (NPA) told NutraIngredients-USA that he hopes the future leadership will do a better job at looking out for consumers,

 “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has neglected a series of its enforcement obligations over the past several years, meaning unsafe and untested dietary supplement ingredients are being imported to the U.S. and reaching store shelves. Adulterated ingredients that have not completed the New Dietary Ingredient notification process are entering our country at an alarming rate and it’s been roughly six years since the FDA provided dietary supplement import alerts to prevent this. This puts American consumers at risk and compliant US supplement-makers at a terrible disadvantage,” ​he said.

If nominated and confirmed, Hahn’s first order of business will likely be tackling the vaping crisis, which has been linked to more than a thousand cases of lung injury in the past several months and at least 18 patient deaths in 48 states. It's a cause for concern for many, including Fabricant. 

“Inaction to date in the CBD marketplace has created a scenario that may lead to the next vaping-like health crisis. Natural Products Association worked with Congressman Jerry McNerney of California who put forth language that was passed in the US House to fund the FDA to establish a safe level of CBD consumption. That legislation currently sits with the US Senate to adopt as well. With more than 1,500 CBD products on store shelves across the country and 1 in 7 Americans using CBD, it’s past time for consumers to have accurate information on CBD and it’s time for producers to be properly regulated. The FDA setting a safe level for CBD consumption will create an urgently-needed legal pathway for regulation of CBD products. It’s my hope that with Stephen Hahn as its next Commissioner, the FDA will take on these much needed actions to protect American consumers,”​ said Fabricant. 

The FDA takes on CBD

The FDA may just be listening after all. Following the many demands to develop a regulatory pathway for the lawful use of hemp-derived CBD in foods and dietary supplements, the FDA acting chief information officer Dr. Amy Abernethy recently announced on Twitter:

"[FDA] is expediting its work to address the many questions about cannabidiol (CBD). This is an important national issue with public health impact, & an important topic for American hemp farmers and many other shareholders.”

Abernethy went on to explain that while the agency is enthusiastic about research into the therapeutic values of CBD-infused products, it is also concerned with the need for safety.

Several federal agencies, such as the US Patent and Trademark Office​ and the US Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau​ defer to the FDA in dealing with CBD-related issues. Streamlining the process of CBD products will help clarify the legality of these products as well as expedite the cultivation and processing of hemp, a win for the economy as well as CBD proponents.

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