Senate confirms new FDA chief

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Andrew von Eschenbach won confirmation as head of the FDA, breaking a filibuster and bolstering the agency as it heads into a period of greater legislative scrutiny. The vote was 80-11 to confirm von Eschenbach, who has been acting head of the agency for more than year. While von Eschenbach was approved in September by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Education Committee, members of both parties had stalled a final vote on his nomination. Democrats had blocked it until the FDA decided to allow OTC sales of the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill. Von Eschenbach also faced opposition from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Finance Committee chairman, who mounted the filibuster that was broken earlier Thursday. Grassley has been investigating the FDA’s handling of Sanofi-Aventis’ Ketek, which has been linked to severe liver problems and several deaths. Von Eschenbach has resisted release of full information about the antibiotic, saying it could have a chilling effect on the FDA’s ability to evaluate drug safety and other issues independently and objectively. The new Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to aggressively investigate several aspects of the FDA next year. Among points on the agenda are voting on reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act.
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