Friday, December 12, 2008

The Long Campaign for FDA Commissioner (Part 2)

Yesterday, we told you about Steve Nissen's presentation during the FDA/CMS Summit for Biopharma Executives.

He wasn't the only speaker at the conference whose name has been mentioned as possible commissioner material. The opening keynote, for instance, was by Janet Woodcock, the head of the Center for Drug Evaluation & Research and the hands-down first choice of biopharma executives to be the next commissioner.

That is the first reason why she almost certainly won't get the job. As we wrote previously, industry support is definitely not something the Obama team is likely to weigh too highly when it gets around to making the pick. Nor is it likely that the new administration will pass up the opportunity to give the plum post to an outsider it would like to reward, rather than to a career FDAer, even one as abundantly qualified as Woodcock.

Indeed, the day before Woodcock spoke at the Summit, Rep. Bart Stupak (the chair of one of the Congressional committees that oversees FDA) wrote to the President-elect to declare that no agency insiders should be considered for the post even on an interim basis. Stupak, as "The Pink Sheet" reports, wants "a complete change in FDA's leadership."

Stupak, as it happens, chose the losing side in an internal Democratic party fight over leadership of the Energy & Commerce Committee, so his opinion may not carry as much weight as it once would have. But we're betting that the transition team won't be looking to antagonize Stupak unduly by nominating Woodcock for the job.

As for giving her the post on an interim basis, not only would that antagonize Stupak, but it would probably do exactly the opposite of what her supporters want: if Woodcock is the acting commissioner, she would almost certainly leave the agency once a Senate confirmed commissioner comes on board.

So who will the next FDA commissioner be?

We're betting that the closing speaker at the Summit, FDA deputy commissioner Frank Torti, will end up claiming that title--albeit only on an acting or interim basis. That, at least, is what the natural order of things would dictate, a fact that has been clear since Torti joined the agency six months ago.

And after that? Well, that's what campaigns are for.

Stay tuned: On Monday we'll bring you Part 3 of our campaign-for-commish series.

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