Back grey_arrow_rt.gif
 
 
New FDA Commissioner
 
 
  By ANNA WILDE MATHEWS, SARAH LUECK and JOHN D. MCKINNON Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
September 24, 2005
 
Lester Crawford, confirmed just two months ago to run the Food and Drug Administration, abruptly resigned Friday.
 
The White House, which gave no immediate explanation for the resignation, named Andrew von Eschenbach, the head of the National Cancer Institute, to serve as acting FDA commissioner.
 
Dr. Crawford's departure was announced in an email to agency staff that offered no explanation for the action, saying only that after serving in several capacities at FDA over the years, "it is time, at the age of 67, to step aside" and thanking officials and FDA staff.
 
The departure came as the FDA is under continuing pressure over drug safety questions and politically tinged issues like its delay of a decision on allowing sales of the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B without a prescription. But the decision shocked agency staff. Dr. Crawford, who spent much of his professional life at FDA working his way up the ranks, had served as acting commissioner twice before finally getting the permanent job this past July, and was widely expected to serve until close to the 2008 election as a capstone to his career.
 
Dr. Crawford's confirmation dragged on for months, snarled in an investigation into allegations of an improper relationship with a subordinate as well as Democrats' efforts to force action on Plan B. Investigators didn't find violations that would derail the nomination. Sen. Michael Enzi (R., Wyo.), chairman of the Senate committee that oversees FDA, who had requested the probe of the alleged relationship, supported Dr. Crawford's confirmation. Dr. Crawford, a veterinarian with a doctorate in pharmacology, was seen as a seasoned official who wouldn't take the FDA in any dramatic new directions. His first few months at the helm in the permanent job were marked by his announcement of a continued delay of a final ruling on Plan B, which has draw opposition from antiabortion groups. Democrats attacked the decision as politically motivated and an FDA official resigned over the matter because Dr. Crawford had overruled the agency's own drug reviewers.
 
At the same time, the FDA continued to come under fire for not taking dramatic enough steps to bulk up its focus on drug safety, an issue that gained a spotlight last year after Merck & Co. withdrew Vioxx, its blockbuster painkiller, from the market over its cardiovascular risk. But from the other side, the drug industry complained that the agency was putting too much weight on safety matters and potentially slowing approvals.
 
Dr. von Eschenbach, a high-profile surgeon who has close relationships with patient groups, has been seen as an aggressive advocate and promoter for quick progress toward new treatments for cancer. Dr. von Eschenbach has headed the cancer institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, since 2002. A cancer survivor, he previously was executive president of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston.
 
In 2003, he helped form an oncology task force that brought together NCI and FDA to work together to increase the availability of safe and effective treatments, diagnostics and preventive interventions for cancer. If he brings an aggressive approach toward speeding drug approval to FDA, he will likely be welcomed by the industry.
 
 
 
 
  icon paper stack View Older Articles   Back to Top   www.natap.org