The Bush administration's choice for acting commissioner of the FDA, Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., will juggle his interim duties while continuing to direct the National Cancer Institute.
Von Eschenbach replaces Lester Crawford, who tendered his resignation Friday. In an e-mail memo, he stated simply, "it is time at the age of 67, to step aside." Neither Crawford nor the FDA commented on the reason for the resignation.
Named NCI director in 2001, von Eschenbach is a urologic surgeon and cancer survivor with close ties to patient groups, according to a New York Times report. He has issued a challenge to the cancer community to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer by 2015.
He now takes on some of the FDA's daunting challenges, including addressing the agency's ability to ensure safety concerns post Vioxx. Those worries gained new attention after device maker Guidant recalled about 100,000 pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators recently.
Von Eschenbach told The Wall Street Journal he wants to look at whether the drug-review process could be improved to speed approval of important new treatments "within the context of continuing to assure their efficacy and safety."
A longtime FDA employee, Crawford had been its deputy commissioner before becoming acting commissioner. He had survived a contentious confirmation process that ended just two months ago after being delayed by a dispute over approval of the emergency contraceptive Plan B and an investigation into allegations that he had an affair with a colleague.
Nevertheless, Crawford had instituted a new safety oversight board, revamped manufacturing rules and strengthened advertising policies. Many were relieved to see the first permanent commissioner in place since Mark McClellan resigned in 2003 to become Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator.