Monday, September 22, 2008

FDA's Brain Drain Continues

Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to work at FDA.

Even as FDA bulks up its drug review ranks with new money from Congress, attrition continues to affect the agency—including high-level defections to industry. Indeed, drug sponsors are more than willing to bring former agency officials into their ranks and pay them much more than the average government salary.

Florence Houn is the latest to jump ship; as reported in “The Pink Sheet” this week, the FDA official has been hired by Celgene as VP-regulatory policy and strategy.

Most recently,Houn was involved in vaccines regulation: she was deputy director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review. But she also knows a thing or two about drug reviews, having served in leadership positions of two different Offices of Drug Evaluation during her 15-year tenure at FDA.

For Celgene, Houn couldn’t come at a better time: the company is working to comply with the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies provision of the FDA Amendments Act. Celgene is responsible for two of the most restrictive REMS: thalidomide (Thalomid) and lenalidomide (Revlimid), a thalidomide analogue.

In deciding to leave FDA for industry, Houn is taking a page from her husband, former Office of Antimicrobial Drug Products director Mark Goldberger, who left in early 2007 for Abbott Labs. Other recent high-level departures from within the agency include former ODE II director Robert Meyer, who joined Merck in late 2007.

The Office of Drug Safety has probably had the hardest time holding onto talent. Predecessors to current director Gerald Dal Pan left for industry within a year or two of assuming the top drug safety post: Peter Honig to Merck as VP-risk management and Victor Raczkowski to Cephalon as VP-regulatory affairs.

Dal Pan is showing no signs of leaving anytime soon (and given the Office of Drug Safety's new powers and authority, why would he?). But given the monumental changes in drug regulation under the Amendments Act, FDA expertise is surely fetching quite a premium these days. For the agency's sake (and all of industry's), let's hope few other agency officials take advantage of it.


Anonymous said...

Another key departure was Felix Frueh in July 2008. Medco Health Solutions appointed Felix to be VP of research and development, personalized medicine.

Felix was associate director for genomics at the US Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Clinical Pharmacology in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. He also was chair of the FDA’s Interdisciplinary Pharmacogenomics Review Group.

Kate Rawson said...

Thanks for that -- an even more recent example of the FDA brain drain. Felix is a big loss for the agency, especially as industry moves slowly toward personalized medicine.