Last week, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach was confirmed by the Senate to head the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. von Eschenbach is 65-year-old oncologist, surgeon and cancer survivor. He has been acting commissioner at the FDA since September 2005, and is the former director of the National Cancer Institute.
His appointment will provide the agency with strong leadership as it heads into a potentially tumultuous year in light of legislative changes on Capitol Hill. The nomination, which passed the Senate by a vote of 80-11, will now be sent to the president.
Dr. von Eschenbach is a strong proponent of transforming the FDA to keep pace with changes in healthcare. He commented that the Agency must establish itself “as the bridge that supports new molecular-based interventions as they move across the discovery, development, and delivery continuum.” His vision for the Agency calls for aligning, adapting, and recognizing the importance of FDA’s leadership role and its responsibility in the metamorphosis that will define a new era in Healthcare.
“This healthcare system of the future will be personalized by developing a sophisticated understanding of not only the disease process, but also of the individual patient. In understanding both the disease and the person at the molecular level, physicians will be able to provide treatment options uniquely suited to a patient’s particular needs. Instead of empirically prescribing a pill and hoping it works, patients will receive treatments designed specifically for them. We will use the new tools of molecular medicine to develop new individualized interventions and in the very process of molecularly monitored delivery to patients our understanding of the biology of disease in individual humans will be elucidated. In this way, delivery will become, in itself, a platform of discovery” commented Dr. von Eschenbach in a recent speech. He went on to say “I expect that this healthcare system will be much more participatory. Increased utilization of information technologies and improved communication strategies will allow patients to assume a substantially more active role in their healthcare. It will be important for us at FDA to consider how we can work together with doctors and patients to make sure that they have the greatest opportunity to maximize the benefits of new medical products in a way that preserves their ability to make individualized choices free from restrictive burdens, and that the data derived from health care can be used to further enhance the safety and effectiveness of these products.”
It is clear from his comments that he has the right ideas to lead and transform FDA. However, implementing these ideas is not going to be easy. Although Industry and Agency staffers agree that the FDA is in need of increased funding, allocating resources may prove to be difficult under the current budget pressures.