March 14, 2006

Andrew von Eschenbach's dual role as acting FDA commissioner and head of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a key factor in arguments both for and against his likely nomination to become the permanent FDA commissioner, sources say.

While proponents laud von Eschenbach's experience with cancer issues and dedication to finding a cure for the disease, opponents argue his ties to the NCI present substantial conflict-of-interest concerns that may hinder his nomination. These issues have arisen as the FDA has ramped up its efforts to address cancer.

Industry officials and cancer patient advocates argue that von Eschenbach is the right man to lead the agency. Von Eschenbach's background as the longtime head of the NCI, an oncology clinician and a cancer survivor makes him uniquely qualified to lead the agency's growing attempts to treat and cure the disease, these sources say.

Von Eschenbach's expected nomination is "an extraordinary opportunity" to move cancer research forward, said Ellen Sigal, chairwoman of the Friends of Cancer Research. With his background and personal experiences, von Eschenbach can provide "an important perspective" about the significance of the disease and how to cure it, she added.

The acting commissioner fully supports the agency's efforts to address cancer and his likely nomination as permanent head of the FDA will only bolster those efforts, said Peter Pitts, director of the Center for Medicines in the Public Interest and a former FDA official. Von Eschenbach's potential nomination could put him in a position to work more aggressively to ensure the agency's cancer agenda is properly funded, Pitts added.

The rumors surrounding von Eschenbach's possible appointment to head the FDA have arisen as the agency has laid out an aggressive agenda to fight cancer with a focus on improving the scientific tools, information tools and management approaches needed to address the disease. "We need to do all these things to make the process for bringing new medical innovations to patients more timely, less expensive and [less risky]," Scott Gottlieb, the agency's deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs, told attendees at a recent cancer conference. (http://www.fdanews.com/did)