New leadership on the way for FDA


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By Consumers Union on Thursday, March 12th, 2009

The much-beleagured Food and Drug Administration looks to be finally getting some strong leadership. Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the former health commissioner for New York City, and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, currently Baltimore’s health commissioner, are expected to be nominated soon by President Obama.

The two bring a wealth of health policy and health administration experience to the agency, which has the mammoth job of approving new drugs and medical devices, overseeing direct-to-consumer advertising (drug ads) for accuracy, ensuring that a good portion of the food supply is safe, regulating food and drug imports, and countless other public health responsibilities.

Consumers Union’s take: “We want to work with Dr. Hamburg to reform the way FDA approves medicines. Between contaminated imports and the use of dishonest research results, the American medicine cabinet has become a little shop of horrors. In recent years, the agency has been too slow to protect consumers and too willing to give industries a pass on safety,” said CU health policy analyst Bill Vaughan, a veteran of the recent FDA drug safety reform effort.

As Bloomberg reports, Hamburg’s experience at the federal level includes strategic planning and developing regulations as an assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Department, and AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health.

Sharfstein worked on the Hill for consumer watchdog Rep. Henry Waxman, and as Bloomberg reports, took on the drug industry’s practice of giving gifts to doctors by organizing a drive as a Harvard medical student to return textbooks paid for by drugmaker Novartis.

“Dr. Sharfstein is a great choice to help refocus the agency on its primary mission – to protect public health and safety. His years as a health policy advisor for Congressman Waxman coupled with his management experience as Baltimore’s health commissioner are just what the doctor ordered for FDA,” said Ellen Bloom, federal policy director for Consumers Union.

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