FDAnews Drug Daily Bulletin


March 17, 2006

Senate Democrats are threatening to hold up the nomination of Andrew von Eschenbach to be the permanent head of the FDA over delays in the agency's decision on whether to allow the controversial Plan B contraceptive to be sold without a prescription.

President Bush recently announced the nomination, following weeks of speculation that von Eschenbach was the administration's choice to run the FDA. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are supporting the move. But some Senate Democrats are planning to place a hold on the nomination until the FDA makes a decision on Plan B.

For example, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, seems poised to oppose the nomination pending a Plan B decision. "I expect the [Bush] administration will have to address the Plan B issue fair and square before he can be confirmed," Kennedy said. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) also is planning to place a hold on the nomination.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) also challenged the nomination, arguing von Eschenbach is more interested in protecting pharmaceutical companies than the American public. "I'm also concerned about Dr. von Eschenbach's close ties to the Bush family because I want to make sure that the new FDA commissioner can stand firm in opposition to the White House when needed and doesn't become just another 'yes' man for the president," Hinchey said.

However, the nominee does have strong allies, including Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the HELP committee, who has jurisdiction over the nomination. Enzi said that he is "pleased" with the nomination. Referring to von Eschenbach, Enzi noted the agency "needs a leader with the vision to cope with the many advances in genetics, pharmacology and related fields." The HELP committee has primary jurisdiction over the nomination

Critics of the FDA, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) are also supporting von Eschenbach. "I am pleased to see that the [Bush] administration has appointed a competent, permanent head of FDA instead of a temp," said Mikulski. "Today's announcement is a move towards reforming FDA as the agency recovers from several years of weak leadership."

However, some activists have questioned the nomination, arguing that von Eschenbach's experience as head of the National Cancer Institute represents a conflict of interest. Public Citizen blasted the move, calling von Eschenbach "unqualified" and out of touch.

"Von Eschenbach continues to exhibit extraordinarily bad judgment, a lack of being in touch with reality and insensitivity to the hopes and fears of other cancer patients and their friends and families, as evidenced by his oft-stated 'plan' to eliminate the suffering and death from cancer by 2015,"said Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "Eradicating cancer within 10 years is not realistic, and by making this statement, von Eschenbach is cruelly raising people's hopes."