Ex-FDA chief tapped to critique agency

Here's a turnabout for you: George W. Bush's FDA chief is joining a think-tank effort to overhaul the agency, the WSJ Health Blog reports. Andrew von Eschenbach has signed on as an adviser to the Center for Health Transformation, the brainchild of Newt Gingrich. His task: To lead the charge on the think-tank's 21st Century FDA Modernization Project.

The idea is to improve the effectiveness of the FDA. Ironic, isn't it, considering that von Eschenbach already had a full-time chance to improve the agency. But the think tank's goal is actually a bit narrower: It wants to speed up drug approval. Gingrich's group says it takes new meds 17 years to get to patients, but that's a figure disputed by others, namely Public Citizen, as an industry beef, not an objective assessment.

Meanwhile, von Eschenbach's successor, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg (photo), has embarked on her own FDA overhaul effort. She's restructured its various divisions and launched several new initiatives. Perhaps the biggest: a push to beef up and speed up enforcement efforts. And she's outlined her vision of the FDA not just as a regulator, but as a public-health agency. We'll have to wait and see how von Eschenbach responds to the "new FDA" in his new role as outsider-critic.

- read the think tank's release
- see the Health Blog post