Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Frank Torti: FDA’s Next Commissioner?

FDA Acting Commissioner Frank Torti. It kind of has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Given some of the things we’ve been hearing inside the Beltway recently, it may just come to pass.

Torti came on board as FDA chief scientist and Andy von Eshenbach’s second in command in April. At the time, we commented on the choice of an academic as Janet Woodcock’s successor, and Torti as a particularly non-controversial pick.

But the early word—at least from his colleagues at Wake Forest—was that Torti wasn’t long for the job, and that he’d be returning to academia as soon as the next president took office.

Some industry observers are now speculating that Torti’s tenure at FDA will be a lot longer than first thought. Conventional wisdom inside Washington has held for some time that von Eschenbach’s tenure is winding down, and that he will be asked to leave FDA the morning of November 5, regardless of who ends up in the White House.

Once that happens, Torti is likely to be asked to hold down the fort until von Eschenbach’s permanent successor is named. And depending who takes over the White House, Torti very well could be that permanent successor. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise: von Eschenbach himself was only supposed to be a temporary replacement when he came on as interim commissioner in late 2005.

Either way, Torti is someone that industry should get to know. If you’re looking for some insight into Torti’s policy plans, his May 30 appearance at the FDA Science Board might be a good place to start. You can find a partial transcript of his presentation through The RPM Report by clicking here; if you don’t subscribe, you can sign up for a 30-day trial to view the article.

In it, Torti outlined his plan for his first 100 days as FDA’s chief scientist, very much sounding like someone who is ready and willing to settle into the job for the long haul—at least until he is called up for higher service. Even the title of his speech had a political ring to it: “Science at the FDA: Vision, Plans and Timetable.”

At least for now, Torti is being coy about his future plans at FDA. When our colleagues at “The Pink Sheet” asked him about the rumors surrounding his tenure at the agency, he smiled and said, “I’m not in the habit of taking a job no one’s told me about yet.” Perhaps not. But we have a feeling his phone will be ringing soon.

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