President Bush yesterday named Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, as head of the Food and Drug Administration, a position which he has been serving in an ‘acting’ capacity since September of last year.
The move to nominate von Eschenbach was expected, but so is a rocky confirmation process that will be made more complicated by controversy swirling around considerable delays that have occurred associated with the agency’s decision regarding access to emergency contraception that does not require prescription.
Some political heavy weights in Washington in particular are expected to make the process a headache for the former president of the National Cancer Institute. Von Eschenbach, 64, himself is a cancer survivor.
Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have announced their intention to freeze his nomination until they are satisfied that the FDA is moving ahead and making a decision on the pending request to approve what is called Plan B emergency contraception – a medication that can reduce pregnancy risks after unprotected sex if taken within 3 days.
“The American people deserve an FDA that sets the gold standard in drug approval. The FDA under this Administration has squandered that trust and the over the counter application of Plan B is a case in point,” the senators said in a jointly released statement. “For more than two years, the FDA has dragged its feet on making a decision, putting ideology over science. It is past time for the FDA to stop dragging its heels and make a decision on Plan B. We will place a hold on the nomination of Dr. von Eschenbach until the FDA issues a decision on Plan B, yes or no.”
As acting FDA chief, von Eschenbach was the successor for former FDA commissioner Lester Crawford. Crawford quit just three months after his own tough though successful Senate confirmation hearing.
The confirmation process for the FDA position includes a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on which both Clinton and Murray sit.
The battle over the Plan B emergency contraceptive vote goes back well before Von Eschenbach hit the FDA scene, as it was an issue which stalled Crawford’s process. At that time Democrats let the vote on Crawford roll because they believed a decision would be made about the Plan B contraceptive. However, no such decision has come forward as yet.