Bush to Nominate Acting Chief to Head FDA

posted on:
March 15, 2006

author:
Staff

category:
Uncategorized

WASHINGTON (AP)—President Bush on Wednesday nominated Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach as
commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, the regulatory agency that the urology surgeon has
led on an acting basis since September.
If confirmed by the Senate, von Eschenbach probably will step down as director of the National Cancer
Institute, which he has led since 2002, a government official said prior to the White House
announcement.
Von Eschenbach, 64, would become the third FDA commissioner since Bush entered office in 2001.
The last permanent commissioner, Lester Crawford, abruptly resigned in September, two months after
his confirmation.
Von Eschenbach served as chief academic officer of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer
Center in Houston before he left to take over the NCI. The Philadelphia native has survived three cancer
diagnoses: melanoma, prostate cancer and basal cell carcinoma.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, said he
would convene hearings to review von Eschenbach’s nomination as quickly as possible.
‘’The FDA is at a crucial point in its history and needs a leader with the vision to cope with the many
advances in genetics, pharmacology and related fields, which will test the agency’s regulatory
processes,’’ Enzi said.
The Senate confirmation process will give lawmakers a chance to air a litany of complaints about the
agency. Those include the FDA’s delaying of plans to allow over-the-counter sales of the Plan B
emergency contraceptive pill.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said he expected the administration will have to address the Plan B
issue ‘’fair and square’’ before von Eschenbach would be confirmed, raising the possibility of a delay.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and other lawmakers also have raised concerns about the safety of
prescription drugs like Vioxx and allegations of a too-cozy relationship between the FDA and the
pharmaceutical industry.
‘’For the majority of President Bush’s time in office the FDA has been without a permanent
commissioner, which has adversely affected the agency’s ability to protect the American people from
dangerous drugs,’’ Hinchey said in a statement. ‘’While I am pleased to see the president take the step
Bush to Nominate Acting Chief to Head FDA – New York Times Page 1 of 2
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-FDA-Commissioner.html?pagewanted=print 3/15/2006
toward having a full-time commissioner, we need to learn a lot more from Dr. von Eschenbach about
what kind of relationship he envisions the FDA having with the drug industry.’’
In a letter Monday to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, Sen. Charles Grassley, RIowa,
wrote that in the last few years ‘’there has been an undeniable absence of strong leadership at the
FDA.’’
The agency, which is part of HHS, oversees the regulation of medical devices and more than $1 trillion
annually worth of food, drugs, cosmetics, animal feed and other products, which account for 25 cents of
every dollar spent each year by Americans.
John Seffrin, the national chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, called von
Eschenbach an extraordinary human being who’s seen both sides of cancer, as a doctor and survivor.
‘’You have an admixture of talent, experience and sensitivity that make him, I think, uniquely qualified
to be a regulator at an agency as important as the Food and Drug Administration,’’ Seffrin said.
On the cancer front, however, von Eschenbach has endured criticism of his stated goal of eliminating
suffering and death due to the disease by 2015.
‘’It’s basically a religious statement,’’ said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research
Group. ‘’I don’t think it’s a very good idea foisting religious views on the American people. This is a case
of misleading people.’’
At the request of lawmakers, the HHS inspector general continues to investigate whether Crawford, the
former commissioner, followed ethics laws requiring that he report his financial assets and income to the
government. A month before he resigned, Crawford sold more than $50,000 in shares in a company that
makes medical devices, according to financial disclosure forms obtained by The Associated Press under
the Freedom of Information Act.
^———On the Net:
Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov

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