Senate confirms Dr. Robert Califf to lead FDA

The corporate logo of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is shown in Silver Spring, Maryland, November 4, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm Dr. Robert Califf as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, an agency that regulates everything from food and drugs to tobacco, cosmetics and dietary supplements.

Califf, 64, is a well-regarded cardiologist and researcher who takes the helm at the FDA at a time it is under pressure from lawmakers to speed the approval process for drugs and medical devices and finalize a proposed rule giving it authority to regulate e-cigarettes.

The agency is also attempting to implement sweeping new regulations to improve food safety, and has begun to tackle the approval process for biosimilars, which are cheaper versions of biologic drugs.

Califf’s nomination was opposed by the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who said Califf’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry made him unfit to regulate the industry impartially. It was also opposed by several senators who believe the agency needs to do more to combat opioid addiction.

Several senators, including Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, took the opportunity leading up to the vote to lambaste the FDA for what they said was a lax approach to approving potentially addictive opioid painkillers.

Reporting by Toni Clarke; Editing by Eric Walsh