FDA & Politics: In the Interest of Science?

April 3, 2012

FDA and politics

Political Pressure at FDA?

FDA Regulates 25% of the U.S. economy and has long been the target of lobbyists from the food,drug, & tobacco industries.The question is always asked: “Is mixing the public health mission of FDA with politics in the current political climate advancing the interests of the American consumer?” Unfortunately, the answer is almost always no. Last December GxP Perspectives published a Guest Commentary on “when Politics and Science Collide,” by April Mayberry. In the 03 April 2012 New York Times there is an extensive page one article on the differences between the Obama White House and FDA on public health issues.

For most readers of this blog it is a question on the approval of health products; drugs, medical devices, and biologics, that come to mind. Is FDA providing the right balance in regulatory oversight? Is FDA making decisions based on science and not political pressure? The issue came to a head over the Plan B controversy that April Mayberry wrote about in her Guest Commentary. In this week’s FDA Matters, longtime FDA observer Steven Grossman talks about different plans to speed up FDA approvals noting that there are rarely initiatives to make sure that FDA scientists have the time and resources to make the right decisions. Grossman notes that former FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew Von Eschenbach wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal where he states:

FDA and Politics

Dr. Andrew Von Eschenbach

What will it take to realize the potential of the new medicine? The United States has the world’s most innovative drug and device companies and research universities, plus the unparalleled National Institutes of Health. What’s missing is a modernized Food and Drug Administration that can rapidly and efficiently bring new discoveries to patients.”

This places the burden, and blame, for new health product approvals squarely on FDA. The New York Times article points out that political pressure has often shaped FDA policy and that there have often been serious consequnces when FDA tries to assert its independence. For example, FDA Commissioner Dr. Jane Henney lost her job for allowing the approval of the controversial drug RU-486. Although then DHHS Secretary Donna Shalala guaranteed Dr. Henney that FDA would have independence to make scientific decisions, she was soon out of a job with the election of George W. Bush.

FDA and politics

Dr. Margaret Hamburg has Supported FDA Scientists on Plan B

Current FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg has not had as supportive a relationship with the current DHHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. They clashed on the restrictive measures insisted on by Secretary Sebelius for access to Plan B. Other areas of disagreement include labels on sunscreens and over the asthma drug Primatene Mist. In an election year the volatile mix of politics and science is even more apparent. In the New York Times article FDA historian Daniel Carpenter of Harvard University warns:

In a globalized world , where trust is a huge part of what American manufacturers have to sell, the politicalization of the FDA’s reputation could hurt not only consumer protection but industry profits as well.”

It should be an interesting year for science and politics.

Carl Anderson, GxP Perspectives

Read the New York Times Article

FDA Matters

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