Monday, December 15, 2008

The Long Campaign for FDA Commissioner (Part 3)

We’ve given you some of our thoughts on the candidates for FDA commissioner in the new Administration in several recent posts (here and here). Today, though, we tackle a bigger question: Why would anyone possibly want this job?

For a position that may well be the most thankless job in health care, an awful lot of people seem to be lining up to be the next commissioner of FDA.

With all the problems at FDA right now—a deeply underfunded agency with a nearly impossible mandate to protect the nation’s food and drug supply—it’s a wonder anyone would want to lead the agency. Add the prospect of contentious Senate confirmation hearings, a low public opinion of FDA, and a constant threat of whistleblowers, and you don’t exactly have your dream job.

But that hasn’t prevented people from wanting to be the next FDA commissioner. While much of the campaigning is taking place behind closed doors, some candidates are choosing to be a bit more vocal. Those individuals tend to fall into two categories; the Peter Rost Category of Candidates and the Steve Nissen/David Kessler Category of Candidates.

On one extreme end of the campaigning spectrum, there’s former Pharmacia marketing executive Peter Rost. As the Pfizer whistleblower over off-label promotion of the human growth hormone Genotropin, Rost is probably the one commissioner candidate that scares the bejesus out of pharma (or at least Pfizer) more than Nissen. Or he would if he had any chance of actually landing the job.

Not only is Rost openly campaigning, he is, in his words, “running” for FDA commissioner as though it’s an open Senate seat. Rost’s personal blog is now dedicated to his campaign run, and he has successfully solicited letters of endorsement from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. JoAnn Emerson (R-Mo.).

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ll cite David Kessler. Kessler isn’t sending out press releases expressing his interest in the commissioner post, but he is indicating he’d be open to the job through public appearances. As we reported in an earlier blog post, when asked for his ideal profile for an FDA commissioner, Kessler essentially described himself.

The same goes for Nissen. While Nissen may be the last thing that anyone in industry wants in an FDA commissioner, he is laying out an agenda that sounds quite reasonable: more money for FDA, an end to the missed user fee deadlines, and restoring integrity to the agency. Indeed, we laid out in an earlier post why we think FDA commissioner Nissen wouldn't be the worst thing that ever happen to industry.

But even Nissen recognizes the challenges facing the next commissioner, and has publicly questioned whether anyone would want the job. Here’s what he said at FDC-Windhover’s FDA/CMS Summit last week:

“The problem is in the current environment, getting anybody confirmed looks like it could be really tough. You know what the last bunch of commissioners have gone through. You have to be a masochist to want to do that, and there aren’t a lot of people who would want to do that.”
Of course, in saying someone would have to be a masochist to want the job, Nissen didn’t mention whether he was a masochist. Knowing what we know about Nissen, we'd have to say yes.

image via nothing particularly masochistic about that, eh?

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