Washington Editor

WASHINGTON - The Senate, in a late-night session Thursday held prior to the members leaving town to hit the campaign trail, unanimously approved Mark McClellan as the FDA commissioner.

As expected, McClellan made it through the Senate with ease, following a painless confirmation hearing in which only three members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee showed up to grill the candidate. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 8, 2002.)

All this after two years of President Bush floating names of possible candidates who routinely were deemed unacceptable by the Democratic leadership or others.

In particular, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the committee that confirms, made it clear that he would not consider a candidate from the industry.

At the time of his appointment, McClellan, 39, was a top adviser to Bush, serving on the Council on Economic Advisors. A native of Austin, Texas, McClellan is an economist and internist who also worked as a professor of medicine and economics at Stanford University. Furthermore, he served the Clinton administration's Treasury Department from 1998 to 1999 as deputy assistant secretary for economic policy.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Kennedy, told BioWorld Today that the senator was impressed by McClellan's background as both a doctor and an economist. "The senator thinks Dr. McClellan will bring crucial skills to the agency, and Sen. Kennedy said all along that he would not consider someone from the industry, so obviously Dr. McClellan met his qualifications."

Meanwhile, Carl Feldbaum, president of the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), told BioWorld Today that McClellan impressed BIO's board members at a recent dinner meeting. "At the time he was not confirmed and did not speak as the commissioner - the substance of that occasion is off the record - but I can say that members came away with a highly positive impression of Dr. McClellan. We are very much looking forward to working with him and we're pleased he's been confirmed."

McClellan was criticized early in the nomination process because of his apparent lack of regulatory experience. Feldbaum previously told BioWorld Today that McClellan's total professional experience should be considered, because "no candidate is going to have everything."

McClellan's research has focused on improving the quality of health care while determining the economic and policy factors influencing medical treatment decisions. He has studied the relationship between health and economic well-being.