The death of Dr. Charles Edwards is a great loss to the Food and Drug Administration and to Americans who enjoy the safest supplies of food and medicine in the world, thanks to his leadership. During his tenure as FDA commissioner, Dr. Edwards was one of the country’s most ardent drug safety advocates, ordering the extensive review of over-the-counter drugs for safety, effectiveness, and accuracy in labeling. In addition, he ordered that one of the first mandatory package inserts be included with oral contraceptives to warn patients about the possible risks.
FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg’s Statement on the Passing of Dr. Charles Edwards
Dr. Edwards led FDA from December 1969 to March 1973, taking the reins in a time of great change at the agency. Under his leadership, FDA’s budget doubled from 1970 to 1972 as the commissioner steered the agency towards a greater regulatory role. During these years FDA began regulating biologics and radiological health.
From FDA, Dr. Edwards continued serving his country as assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. There he proposed major reforms in health care and gave greater standing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 1990, long after Dr. Edwards had left government service, Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan named him head of the Advisory Committee on the FDA to review the agency’s mission, structure, priorities, staffing, and budget.
In a warning that seems a foreshadowing of current concerns about FDA resources, the Edwards committee warned: “An agency charged with such a broad array of vital health protection responsibilities, yet one that lacks the tools to carry out those responsibilities, is in serious danger. And hence, so is the American public.”
While he was still commissioner, Dr. Edwards wrote in a journal article, “I firmly believe that the FDA today represents the soundest and most effective approach to carrying out the vital public functions with which it is charged. I also believe that we are constantly challenged to do a better job, and I can assure you that we intend to meet that challenge.”
His words echo today.
Serving during the turbulent Watergate years, Dr. Edwards was confronted with myriad crises and a skeptical public, but he met each with an integrity and dedication that did honor to his office, the agency, and his country. It is this dedication that I strive to emulate each day as I follow in his footsteps as commissioner. He will be greatly missed.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.
I was just a wet behind the ears scientist when Dr. Edwards made the transition from FDA to being the ASH. I remember years later, he was the first ASH to whom I made a presentation (and wouldn’t you know it, I can’t remember the topic – probably laser safety). FDAAA alumni member Phil White worked for him as his special assistant in the OC in the early 70’s. Phil’s take is straightforward: “My favorite Commissioner.”