FDA White Oak Campus, Silver Spring, Maryland.
In Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach’s final briefing with reporters, coming just one day after President George W. Bush’s final press conference, the Commissioner was asked if he, too, had any regrets about his three-year tenure. “I regret I didn’t get here earlier,” the oncologist informed the ten reporters gathered in a spartan, but technologically glitzy conference room at the agency’s new campus.
Depending on who you ask, Dr. von Eschenbach has either a) presided over an unprecedented collapse of morale and integrity, or b) helped shepherd critical new resources to the cash- and personnel-deficient agency. You can guess which side he came down on.
The Commissioner compared the public’s perception of the state of the agency upon his arrival to to that of a patient just hearing of a cancer diagnosis. “It comes as a great shock,” he said, adding that the reality is that the disease processes are underway long before the diagnosis is made.
The nation’s understanding of the agency’s malaise has deepened with incidents such as the discovery of melamine in infant formula, said Dr. von Eschenbach.
Throwing money at the FDA isn’t the solution, he said. To rid the patient of the disease requires a systematic and systemic approach — one that he says he got started, but that he won’t be able to finish.
The doctor, however, seemed strangely distant from the patient. Maybe because he was already thinking about getting back to his Texas home and his “6 and three-quarter grandchildren” next week. But we have not heard the last of the Commissioner.
“I’m not going fishing and I’m not going to play golf,” he said. “I still have a fire in my belly.”