Drugmakers Support Janet Woodcock For U.S. FDA’s Top Job

Drugmakers Support Janet Woodcock For U.S. FDA’s Top JobWith current FDA commissioner - Andrew von Eschenbach, who was appointed by President George Bush, planning to tender his resignation before Obama takes office, American drugmakers are lobbying President-elect Barack Obama to nominate Janet Woodcock, 60, a 22-year insider at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as either the agency’s acting or permanent chief.  Andrew von Eschenbach and the agency, have both gained the ire of and been severely criticized by lawmakers for approving unsafe medications and not doing enough to block tainted food imports, including drugs.

On the other hand, consumer advocacy groups highly critical of the agency, are backing cardiologist Steven Nissen and Baltimore Joshua Sharfstein, the City’s health commissioner, both of whom have asked FDA for changes in drug safety changes.  However, Obama and his advisers have not indicated who they are considering for heading the agency that polices food, drugs and cosmetics.  The commissioner, whose appointment has to be confirmed by the Senate, is responsible for overseeing the agency that has a staff count of 11,000 people and a $2 billion budget.

While, campaigning for president, Obama promised to overhaul the American health-care system, including speaking several times about improving food and drug safety.  However, typically, the process is for Obama to first hire a Secretary of Health and Human Services, who then picks the FDA commissioner.  Sources close to Obama’s health-care advisers say former Senator Tom Daschle and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius are serious contenders for the post of Health Secretary.

Woodcock, an internist and rheumatologist, who was named head of FDA’s drug division in March, joined the FDA in 1986, serving as deputy commissioner and chief medical officer.  Also, supporting Woodcock is the Virginia based Friends of Cancer Research, which in turn receives a certain amount of funding from drugmakers.  However, advocacy groups question her ability to do the job, saying she does not seem like someone who will bring significant changes to the agency.

Diana Zuckerman, a critic of FDA and President of the Washington based advocacy group - National Research Centre for Women & Families, supports Nissen, 60, Head of Cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and Sharfstein, 39, a pediatrician and a Commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department.

Nissen, who disclosed heart risks associated with Avandia, GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s diabetes drug, including criticizing drug safety handling by the agency, seems an unlikely choice for the job, as even some of his supporters admit, due to the strong opposition he would face from drugmakers.

As for Sharfstein, he came into the limelight last year after he petitioned the FDA for a market ban on over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for young children.

An other contender for the post backed by Zuckerman is Susan Wood, a professor at George Washington University, Washington and previous FDA Assistant Commissioner for Women’s health.  She also served on an Obama campaign advisory panel on women’s health policy.

Whoever, is appointed the FDA commissioner has a lot of work to do to regain the trust of Americans and public confidence.  Long seen as government’s premier consumer protection agency, it has stumbled badly under President Bush, with recurring drug and food safety lapses, against a backdrop of shrinking budgets and long periods without a permanent leader.