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Who Would Be the Best FDA Commissioner for Biotech Investors?

Robert Califf has been nominated as the next Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, despite some expectations that the choice would be the current acting commissioner Janet Woodcock. Both had seemed well qualified for the position.

In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on Nov. 15, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss Califf's previous experience working at the FDA and with pharmaceutical companies. The other possible nominee, Woodcock, greatly emphasized making the FDA's expectations clear for biotech companies trying to get their drugs approved, which could have helped companies in the industries.

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Brian Orelli: Robert Califf has been nominated as the next commissioner for the FDA. What do you think of the move? And would Janet Woodcock, who's the current Acting Commissioner, have been a better choice for the industry and therefore investors?

Keith Speights: You could go either way on this one. I think most industry observers view Califf as a safe pick for the Biden administration. He was trained as a cardiologist; he was Professor of Cardiology at Duke University School of Medicine. While at Duke, Califf worked closely with several pharma companies. He's been a paid consultant for several of them as well: Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Merck (NYSE: MRK), GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK). He has some ties to the industry, pretty close ties. But he was also FDA Commissioner for close to a year during the Obama administration. He was also Deputy FDA Commissioner for the office of Medical Products and Tobacco, so he has FDA ties. Califf currently serves as the Head of Clinical Policy and Strategy for Verily, and that's the life sciences company that's part of Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) or Google. I suspect that for investors, Califf will be as good of a pick for FDA Commissioner as Woodcock would've been, and that's just a guess. He was a candidate for this position back in 2009. At that time, he was viewed -- by some, anyway -- as too closely linked to the pharmaceutical industry. There could be some push-back this time around as well because of that. I don't necessarily think he'll be a pushover for the industry, but I don't think he's a bad pick for pharma companies either.

Orelli: I think he's a fine choice. I think the one thing that Woodcock would have brought is that she was very into helping the industry and working the-

Speights: You just went silent on me here, Brian.

Orelli: Oh sorry. I think Califf is a good choice. But the main advantage to Woodcock is [that] she's been really working with the industry for the last few decades on trying to be a partner with the FDA, so that they make decisions [together]. The FDA obviously comes down and makes the decisions, ultimately, but they have back-and-forth early in the discussions of drug development. That helps the companies know exactly what they need to do to get their drugs approved, and so there's less surprises. I think having less surprises is definitely a good thing for biotech investors.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Brian Orelli, PhD has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Keith Speights owns shares of Alphabet (A shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares) and Alphabet (C shares). The Motley Fool recommends GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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