FDA has new commissioner

The Senate has confirmed Andrew von Eschenbach as Food and Drug Administration commissioner. He had been serving as acting commissioner since September 2005. A number of senators had held up his confirmation over the last nine months because of issues related to safety and the sale of certain contraceptives.

A urologist and oncologist, von Eschenbach headed the National Cancer Institute prior to coming to FDA, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department.

Besides drug safety, FDA is modernizing its submissions process for an electronic platform, providing guidance for the structure product labeling standard for exchanging medication information. The agency also is advocating electronic documentation to ensure the authenticity of drug products.

FDA oversees the safety of new pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices, and the speed with which they come to market. Critics have faulted FDA for lax oversight following problems with high-profile drugs such as Vioxx, which was found to increase the risk of heart attack.

Next year, the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, which allows FDA to collect fees from pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the drug approval process, comes up for re-authorization. Congress is expected to question FDA's drug safety monitoring.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), incoming chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, praised von Eschenbach as a good choice to lead FDA, citing his ability to find a solution to the controversy surrounding over-the-counter availability of the Plan B emergency contraceptive.

'We may never know the battles he had to fight'and win'to achieve that solution, but his integrity and tenacity in achieving a solution speak volumes for his character and his commitment to public health,' Kennedy said in a statement.

Von Eschenbach received his bachelor of science from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and his medical degree from Georgetown University in Washington.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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