October 4, 2005

Andrew von Eschenbach will continue to be director of the National Cancer Institute, but will turn over day-to-day decisionmaking to a subordinate while serving as interim FDA commissioner, agency spokespeople say. The decision, while addressing some critics' concerns with Eschenbach, may delay selection of a permanent FDA chief, industry sources say.

Eschenbach announced in a recent memo to staff at both agencies that John Niederhuber would take over as NCI's chief operating officer while he runs the FDA. The transition will "ensure that the important work of the NCI moves forward," Eschenbach said, adding that he is "now devoting my energies to the work of the FDA in protecting and advancing the health of the American people." Niederhuber is the former chair of the National Cancer Advisory Board.

While Eschenbach is turning over day-to-day management of NCI over to Niederhuber, he will officially remain the NCI's director and will continue to have final say over the agency's long-term policy decisions, spokespeople from both the FDA and HHS told FDAnews. Eschenbach will be responsible for the NCI's "strategic vision" even while serving as head of the FDA, the HHS spokeswoman said.

Eschenbach also announced steps he plans to take to avoid potential conflicts of interest given his continuing role with the NCI. Eschenbach said he would not participate in FDA matters when the NCI is involved, including: approval applications affecting drugs, devices and biologics submitted by the NCI or where an NCI employee was a principal investigator; FDA oversight/observation of adverse-event reporting in NCI clinical protocols; or other matters involving NCI as a party in which the FDA is exercising its regulatory authority.

Eschenbach had been under fire from lawmakers and advocates who argued he would be unable to adequately do both jobs and that he could face conflicts of interest because of his ties to the NCI.