U.S. lawmaker urges fresh face at FDA’s helm

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama should find someone outside the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with a fresh perspective to run the agency, a U.S. Democratic lawmaker said in a letter released on Friday.

“Current senior FDA employees are too close with the industries they regulate, creating a question of who they are working for. A new commissioner or interim commissioner must bring the agency back to the forefront of science, integrity, and transparency,” Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan said in a December 3 letter to Obama.

The FDA’s current leader, Andrew von Eschenbach, is widely expected to leave the agency by the time Bush leaves office but has not made any public announcement.

“The commissioner serves at the pleasure of the president and would, as a matter of protocol, tender his resignation to President Bush at the conclusion of his term,” FDA spokeswoman Judy Leon said.

Drugmakers, consumer advocates and others have been speculating about who will replace the Texas urologist, either permanently, or temporarily until a replacement is tapped and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The ideal candidate would be a medical doctor who also has experience running a large health department or university health center, many have said.

Possible contenders whose names have been floated include Cleveland Clinic cardiologist and frequent FDA critic Steve Nissen; and Joshua Sharfstein, who oversees Baltimore’s health department and was vocal with concerns about the risks of cough and cold medicines for children.

Nissen, who spoke about “restoring the FDA” at a conference in Washington on Thursday, said “no comment” when asked if he was in the running for the agency’s top job.

Drugmakers have spoken favorably of a seasoned FDA insider, Janet Woodcock, as a possible replacement for von Eschenbach.

Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee, has led a series of investigations into the FDA’s handling of dangerous side effects from prescription drugs and other matters.

Woodcock, head of the FDA’s drug division, has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism at many of the hearings, and has defended the agency’s response to drug safety issues.

“I would encourage you not to appoint any current senior FDA employee as commissioner or interim commissioner of the FDA,” Stupak told Obama.

Officials with Obama’s transition team were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)


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