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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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)