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Research Campus official in running to lead FDA

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS ó President-elect Barack Obama could appoint a key player at the N.C. Research Campus as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Rob Califf, the author of Duke University’s MURDOCK Study in Kannapolis, is on the short list to head FDA, according to several blogs that cover the pharmaceutical industry.
The day after the Nov. 4 election, the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog reported that Democratic congressional staffers were floating names for top health posts in the new administration.
“Cardiologist Robert Califf of Duke, a Democrat, is OK with both sides of the aisle, but has ties to industry that could raise flags,” according to the Health Blog.
Califf plays several crucial roles at the Research Campus, a $1.5 billion biotechnology hub in downtown Kannapolis founded by Dole Food Co. owner David Murdock.
The lead investigator for the MURDOCK Study, Califf oversees the groundbreaking medical research project that will attempt to usher in a new era of personalized medicine and find genetic causes for disease.
The study’s registry is preparing to enroll 50,000 Kannapolis and Cabarrus County residents starting next month.
Califf also serves on the board for the Murdock Research Institute, which owns and operates the centerpiece Core Laboratory on the Research Campus.
Duke recently announced plans to develop a business incubator and think tank in Kannapolis called the Biomarker Factory, an ambitious initiative that will encompass the MURDOCK Study and serve as Duke’s major contribution to the Research Campus.
Califf appears to trail Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and adviser to the Obama campaign, as the favorite for the FDA post.
But the blog pharmalot.com conducted a poll Nov. 6 on whether Nissen should be the next FDA commissioner, and 76 percent of its readers said no.
Several readers suggested Califf instead.
In a Nov. 6 post titled, “Health care in an Obama world: What we know so far,” the emaxhealth.com blog reported that Califf has advised Obama on FDA reorganization plans.
The In Vivo Blog reported Califf “has close ties to FDA through the Critical Path Initiative … and has both Republican and Democratic supporters.
“In September 2006, Duke entered into an agreement with FDA to serve as a warehouse for electrocardiograms to serve as tools for drug safety research. If Obama goes with a big name, but one less associated with major reforms, Califf could easily be the pick. One thing that may serve as roadblock is his close ties to drug manufacturers.”
Obama on Wednesday tapped Tom Daschle of South Dakota as head of Health and Human Services, which brings a higher profile to a normally low-profile Cabinet seat.
Daschle, a close Obama adviser during the campaign, served almost two decades in the Senate and was majority leader from 2001-2003. Observers say his nomination reflects the priority Obama intends to put on health care reform.

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