The FDA's new acting commissioner addressed concerns about job straddling by announcing that someone else would assume his former responsibility of directing the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
In a memo to NCI staff last Friday, Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., said that Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, asked John Niederhuber, M.D., to serve in the role of chief operating officer to handle the day-to-day management of NCI.
Niederhuber was set to join NCI last week as its deputy director for translational and clinical sciences. He received the additional title of chief operating officer late Friday afternoon, a member of the NCI Media Relations Branch told MM&M.
"I am confident that John, and the rest of the superb senior leadership team at NCI, will continue the agenda and vision of a future free from the suffering and death due to cancer," von Eschenbach said in the announcement.
Von Eschenbach became acting FDA commissioner last week, when President Bush named him to the temporary post following former commissioner Lester Crawford's sudden resignation just two months after his confirmation.
Initially von Eschenbach said he would handle both jobs but faced criticism from lawmakers and others for spreading himself too thin. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), had been among the critics. In a letter to Secretary Leavitt dated Sept. 29, Mikulski wrote, "Given the importance of this job, I have significant yellow flashing lights about the appointment of an acting commissioner who would only work part time at the FDA."
Some also had pointed to von Eschenbach's potential for running into conflicts of interest by heading both agencies, such as involvement in approving drugs developed by NCI scientists.
The acting commissioner addressed that concern in the same memo, saying he will not participate "in certain FDA matters in which NCI is a party, unless the Department requests that I participate on a case-by-case basis."
Those matters include approval applications affecting drugs, devices, and biologics submitted by NCI or where an NCI employee was a principal investigator; FDA oversight/observation of adverse event reporting in NCI clinical protocols; and other matters involving NCI as a party in which FDA is exercising its regulatory authority.
President Bush appointed Niederhuber chair of the National Cancer Advisory Board in 2002, a position he resigned to become deputy director.
A nationally recognized cancer surgeon, Niederhuber has considerable experience as a leader in the cancer field, having served as an advisor to a number of cancer centers, foundation boards and NCI committees.