WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala has tapped FDA Deputy Commissioner for Operations Michael Friedman to take over the reins of the agency on an interim basis until a replacement for outgoing Commissioner David Kessler can be found.

Kessler, who announced his resignation in November, originally had planned to stay at the agency until his successor was named but said Thursday that he will be leaving by mid-February.

Shalala mentioned the appointment in a phone conversation with Biotechnology Industry Organization President Carl Feldbaum. Shalala also said that she was soliciting industry for potential candidates for the post.

"I was pleased to hear from her and pleased to have the input," Feldbaum said. "I told her that industry is looking for a leader of substantial stature."

Feldbaum, however, didn't provide Shalala with a list of names because he "didn't want to put the industry kiss of death" on anyone. Nevertheless, Feldbaum said that Shalala told him that he could provide names over the next two weeks and that she intends to take personal responsibility for any candidates nominated. — Lisa Seachrist