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Published: Sunday, 10/2/2005

Pick a new FDA chief

President Bush should move swiftly to appoint a full-time director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rather than leave this important consumer protection agency rudderless after the abrupt resignation of its top official.

FDA needs a dose of strong medicine to pull itself together in the wake of multiple controversies that have damaged public confidence in its ability to assure the safety and effectiveness of the medicine supply.

The agency already was reeling from controversies about overlooking the heart attack risks of arthritis drugs, the suicide risks of antidepressants, and letting politics trump science in refusing non-prescription sales of the morning-after pill called Plan B. FDA's director of women's health just resigned in protest over that decision.

Dr. Lester Crawford delivered another hit by resigning his post as FDA commissioner barely two months after Senate confirmation. No explanation has been forthcoming so far, creating speculation - unfair though it may be - that he was forced out due to some yet-to-surface problem that further damages FDA's credibility.

The cure can only begin with strong new leadership at the top.

Mr. Bush, however, has turned to Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, a Texan and long-time family friend, to serve as FDA's part-time acting director. Dr. von Eschenbach also directs the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and will keep that position.

As former executive vice president of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Dr. von Eschenbach is a good fit for NCI, but not the FDA.

With no full-time, permanent director, FDA's bureaucracy will run the agency. These career employees hesitate to rock the boat.

Both NCI and FDA need full-time directors capable of devoting 100 percent of their time to these important jobs. Administration officials, however, say they do not know when Mr. Bush will appoint a full- time FDA director.

Its going to take an individual of national stature in the fields over which FDA holds sway, and the guts to make decisions based on science - not political agendas.

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