New FDA Commissioner Confirmed

In March we reported that President Barack Obama’s long-awaited nominee choice to head the ailing U.S. <"">Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been announced. President Obama nominated Dr. Margaret Hamburg, 53, the former New York City health commissioner, to the post. Now, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting that the Senate has confirmed Dr. Hamburg to oversee food and drug safety.

When Dr. Hamburg is sworn in, she will be the 21st commissioner of the FDA and the second woman in that seat in the 100 years of the agency’s history, the AP noted, which added that the nomination was confirmed via voice vote.

The FDA, which is responsible to ensure drugs, medical devices and products, some human and animal food products, cosmetics, and other consumer goods are safe to Americans, has failed, putting untold citizens at risk in a variety of areas. The agency has long been criticized for all manner of problems, including that it did not have a permanent commissioner for the majority of former President Bush’s eight-year term, said Reuters in an earlier report.

Reuters also noted that under the former administration, the agency was accused of letting politics minimize science and that it was during this time that some of the most notorious drug safety and food borne illness outbreaks originated. There have also been countless controversies involving drug and medical device recalls, issues with toxic ingredients in consumer products, physician and researcher gifting by industry, inappropriate marketing of medical devices and medications, and a system rife with corruption.

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The AP noted the Vioxx scandal in which the heart drug was pulled from the market after scores of reports of serious cardiac risks and recent federal ruling in which it was revealed that the FDA “politicized a decision on emergency contraception during the Bush administration,” are just two other scandals associated with the agency.

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Dr. Hamburg said her top priority would be development of a swine flu vaccine to stem the outbreak that is sweeping the nation; she also reportedly said she is looking to improve food safety, reported the AP, and to place science first while maintaining an operation that is “open and accountable.”

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who has been tapped to be the agency’s deputy commissioner, is a pediatrician who was most recently Baltimore’s health director, said the AP. In a prior report, Bloomberg News said both Hamburg and Sharfstein are physicians with a history of protecting public safety; Hamburg is a bioterrorism expert with “experience in neuroscience, drug research, and public health,” and served as New York City’s health commissioner from 1991-1997, among other noteworthy accomplishments, it noted. Sharfstein petitioned the FDA in 2007 to ban marketing of over-the-counter cough and cold medications to young children over risky side effects and no proven benefits, has been a critic of industry gifting to the medical community, and worked as an investigator for Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat-California), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to name a few.

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