Diagnostics & Imaging Week Washington Editor

WASHINGTON – Lester Crawford, newly appointed as the permanent administrator of the FDA, is planning to hit the road with a series of public events, looking for “valuable insight” from the public.

The agency calls the series of talk show-like meetings “Vision 2006: A Conversation with the American Public.

The FDA says the open format will allow consumers to interact directly with the agency’s leadership in an effort to discuss “what is on the public’s mind.”

It also will be an opportunity for the agency to update the public on current agency programs, engage the public in discussion, and obtain consumer input on specific issues as the FDA prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2006.

The FDA will use the public input it gathers to evaluate and propose modifications to the agency’s programs and activities.

The first event will be held Sept. 13 in Miami, followed by a Nov. 2 hearing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a Nov. 30 session in Phoenix.

“This is an opportunity for Dr. Crawford to shape his leadership and set the tone that we are very interested in what consumers have to say and will be responsive to what they have to say,” Suzanne Trevino, an FDA spokeswoman, told the Boston Globe.

The meetings come as the FDA faces increased scrutiny from lawmakers, the public and industry.

The agency chose locations around the nation to gauge consumer interest that can vary by region.

Cambridge, for example, has a high concentration of drug and medical device companies whose profits are affected by the speed of FDA drug approvals. Arizona and Florida have high numbers of elderly residents, who use more prescription drugs than younger consumers. Florida was selected for the diversity of its aging population, and Arizona because many seniors travel to Mexico to buy inexpensive prescription drugs, according to Trevino’s interview with the Globe.

“As we move forward in the 21st century, Americans are rightly concerned that advances in science should continue to translate into better products and technologies that can benefit their health,” the FDA said in its announcement of the events.

FDA said it finds itself at a “critical juncture” to enable the kind of advances industry and the public expect.

“Many Americans are rightly interested in FDA’s programs, and the steps that the agency is taking to ensure that the promise of better science translates into longer lives with fewer problems from today’s diseases,” the agency said in a statement. “Consumers also want the opportunity to participate, in a meaningful way, in our work, whether we are discussing a complex scientific issue, proposing a regulation to address a particular problem, or implementing a new law.”

The FDA says the public input will help shape its agenda for 2006.

Among some of the topics the agency hopes to discuss at the meetings are new opportunities to advance the safe use of medical products, increase the public health benefits of direct-to-consumer advertising, guarantee the safety and reliability of dietary supplements, and improve the science of drug development by lowering the cost of new medical products and speeding access to better medical technologies through the agency’s Critical Path initiative.

Anyone interested in attending one of the meetings can visit www.grad.usda.gov/vision for more information. Each meeting is schedule to last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.