Diagnostics & Imaging Week Washington Editor

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration said last week it had selected Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, acting director of FDA since September, to assume that post permanently.

von Eschenbach succeeds Lester Crawford, who re-signed last July, roughly three months after winning confirmation from the Senate.

Not unexpectedly, the announcement was greeted by controversy on Capitol Hill.

Sens. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Hillary Clinton (D- New York) promised to put the brakes on Von Eschenbach's confirmation, pending approval of Plan B (levonorgestrel), the controversial "morning after" contraceptive pill that Barr Laboratories (Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey) wants the FDA to clear for over-the-counter sales. In a joint statement, the two senators insisted that it is "past time for the FDA to stop dragging its heels and make a decision on Plan B."

Both Murray and Clinton are members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will review the nomination.

Despite the prospect of a fight in the Senate, the device industry seems to welcome the change in von Eschenbach's status.

Mark Leahey, executive director of the Medical Device Manufacturers Association (Washington), said, "We look forward to our continued work with Dr. von Eschenbach to ensure that patients have access to innovative, safe and effective medical technologies as quickly as possible."

Stephen Ubl, president and CEO of the Advanced Medical Technology Association (Washington), said in a statement that the association "welcomes the Bush administration's nomination," in part because of von Eschenbach's professional and personal experiences as a "urologic surgeon, medical educator and cancer survivor."

von Eschenbach was diagnosed with a melanoma on his scalp in 1989, which was incidentally detected by a colleague at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (Houston), where he served as executive vice president and chief academic officer for a faculty of nearly 1,000. The lesion was visible only because a portion of his scalp had been shaved for an operation on a herniated cervical disc. He also has been diagnosed with two other neoplasticities, prostate cancer and basel cell carcinoma.

His career at Anderson commenced with a fellowship in urological oncology in 1976, and the center offered him a faculty position the following year. In 1983 he was named chair of the department of urology and he was the founding director of M.D. Anderson's Prostate Cancer Research Program, launched in 1996.

von Eschenbach graduated from Georgetown University School of Medicine (Washington) in 1967, and he served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps between 1968 and 1971. He completed residencies in general surgery and urology at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital (Philadelphia) and subsequently taught urology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

He became director of the National Cancer Institute in 2002.