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FDA nominee says
politics not a factor

FDA nominee says
politics not a factor

The nominee to run the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has been criticized as bending to conservative ideology under the Bush administration, says he has not felt political pressure when making scientific decisions.

Andrew von Eschenbach, currently the FDA's acting administrator, also said the appropriateness of medical endeavors, not just safety and effectiveness, must be weighed.

"I have not been restrained or constrained" regarding the scientific process, he told reporters when asked to respond to the perception that the Bush administration has called for physicians to set aside scientific evidence in favor of ideology.

Von Eschenbach, speaking at the Association of Health Care Journalists annual meeting in Houston, answered reporters' questions for the first time since Bush last week tapped him to head the agency permanently. He has led the FDA temporarily since September while also retaining his job as National Cancer Institute director.

"Scientific activities do not occur in a vacuum. We need to continue the discussion and the deliberation of what are some of the implications of these scientific discoveries," he said, adding that society must also weigh in.

"We are moving toward an effort to bring the full fruits of this biomedical research enterprise to patients as rapidly as possible, ensuring the balance between what is effective and what is safe and what is appropriate," he said regarding his experience at both agencies.

Von Eschenbach's comments come as Congress prepares to weigh his nomination in what is likely to be a heated confirmation battle over the FDA's long-delayed decision on access to emergency contraception without a prescription.

Democratic senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington State have already said they will block the nomination until the FDA makes a yes or no decision on wider access to Barr Pharmaceutical's Plan B contraceptive.

They placed a similar hold on Von Eschenbach's predecessor, Lester Crawford, who abruptly resigned in September.

A month before he left, Crawford said selling Plan B over the counter was safe and effective for women 17 and older, but the FDA needed more time to sort out regulatory issues. Opponents of Plan B, which works to prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, argue that wider access will promote promiscuity and increase sexually transmitted diseases. Supporters of the drug argue it can help reduce abortions and have charged the agency with succumbing to conservatives' demands to restrict access. (Reuters)

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