FDA's rotating commissioner's chair finds new nominee, former national coordinator joins Google, and more digital health hires and departures

Also: Apple makes another cardiology hire; Blink Health brings on legal counsel.
By Dave Muoio
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Friday marked the end of Dr. Ned Sharpless’ time as acting commissioner of the FDA, with President Donald Trump pointing to Dr. Stephen Hahn, currently the chief medical officer of MD Anderson Cancer Center, as his official appointment for the role on Friday. Assistant Secretary for health at HHS Dr. Brett Giroir will act as the agency’s new acting head.

“With Dr. Sharpless at the helm, the FDA has executed on its core responsibilities while also making progress on key priorities, such as lowering the price of prescription drugs and tackling the growing epidemic of youth use of tobacco products. I am very grateful to have had Dr. Sharpless as a partner in these efforts,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement regarding the FDA’s staffing changes. “Admiral Giroir has been an indispensable leader for HHS on a number of public health priorities. As Assistant Secretary for Health, whose authorities include overseeing the US Public Health Service, he will be able to assume the delegable duties of the commissioner at this time and ensure the FDA’s work continues to move forward.”

Azar said that Sharpless was required to step down from the position on Friday, due to a law requiring that the acting head serve no more than 210 days. He will be returning to his prior role as the director of the National Cancer Institute.

A radiation and medical oncologist, Hahn was trained in internal medicine at UCSF and spent time at the National Cancer Institute and University of Pennsylvania. Before his role as chief medical officer at MD Anderson, he served as the organization’s COO as well as head of the radiation oncology division.

Giroir has gained some attention within the Trump administration’s HHS due to his role in determining federal funding for fetal tissue research. He also worked at Texas A&M University, and was appointed to multiple positions within DARPA.

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, formerly the national coordinator for Health IT, has been tapped as the first chief health officer at Google. She led a series of successful projects during her two-and-a-half year public post, some of which were focused on EHR certification for the meaningful use program, interoperability advancements and patient access initiatives. Since then, she took on a faculty role at the University of Texas at Austin, headed the Society of General Internal Medicine and joined Leavitt Partners as a senior advisor.

"I am thrilled to join this great team and excited about the opportunity for impact on health,” DeSalvo said in a tweet.

News of her appointment came just a few weeks after word that Obama-era FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf would also be joining Alphabet as its full-time head of strategy and policy for Verily Life Sciences and Google Health.

Columbia University Medical Center Assistant Professor of Cardiology Dr. David Tsay is the latest to rein his horse to Apple’s healthcare wagon, CNBC reports. Tsay, who also previously led a digital push at New York-Presbyterian Hospital as its associate chief transformation officer, is said to have started within the month of October.

Personal health data record platform Backpack Health has appointed Charlotte Berlin as its senior director of client engagement. A registered nurse who held executive roles at AbbVie and Astellas Pharma, she will be leading the company’s organ transplant and kidney health communities through outreach with patient organizations, pharmas and professional groups.

“The Backpack Health transplant ecosystem enables true patient centricity with a well-designed patient-focused platform united with a powerful multi-modal research tool that supports real world evidence collection,” Berlin said in a statement. “I am thrilled to join Backpack Health as the company continues innovating to support the evolving needs of the global transplant community with customized tools and resources, as well as connecting members to a global support community.”

Blink Health picked up a chief healthcare counsel in the form of Kathy Reardon, the former chief ethics officer at Cigna and associate general counsel at Express Scripts. She will be leading the digital drug dispenser’s efforts relating to healthcare law, regulation and compliance from the perspective of the patient’s needs.

“The legal function is central to everything we do at Blink, from developing products that lower costs for patients, to partnering with pharmacies and drug manufacturers,” Geoffrey Chaiken, cofounder and CEO of Blink Health, said in a statement. “Kathy’s incredible depth of knowledge and infectious energy will prove invaluable by opening up further opportunities to innovate on behalf of patients.”