Social media’s increasing volatility is shifting the balance of power in Washington in unexpected ways. Its impact on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail is widely known, but would you expect lowly patient power on social media to shake the job of a high-level FDA center director?
That’s what has been happening to FDA medical devices chief Jeffrey Shuren at the direction of a Philadelphia-area heart surgeon whose wife was devastated with cancer spread by an FDA-cleared device called a power morcellator. Patient activists say the FDA should ban the devices.
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The surgeon, Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, deftly used social media to connect with other similarly injured patients, family members, lawyers, journalists, health professionals and activists, FDA officials and Capitol Hill staffers to not only bring about a labeling change for the device but also to force one manufacturer to quit the market.
But that didn’t satisfy Noorchashm. He broadened his attack to include patients injured from the Essure permanent birth control device.
As his network grew, Noorchashm targeted Shuren for allegedly “being in bed with” industry through his support of device marketing without proof of safety and through Shuren’s wife, Allison, and her legal work with device companies as a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter.
All of this he spread throughout his network, blow by blow. The FDA was forced to issue a public statement, saying the agency “is committed to ensuring agency employees avoid conflicts of interest.” Before he was appointed, Shuren “went through FDA’s rigorous ethics review process to identify and avoid any potential conflicts of interest including in relation to his wife’s law firm partnership,” the FDA said.
That didn’t mollify Noorchashm or his network. Their campaign to force Shuren from office is escalating at press time.