FDA scientist Torti moves to the helm

And the acting FDA commissioner will be... Frank Torti (photo), who's now chief scientist and principal deputy commissioner. Torti will take the reins at FDA on Inauguration Day, fast on the heels of current commish Andrew von Eschenbach, and will serve until a permanent leader is named.

As you know, Torti joined FDA last year as its first chief scientist. He had been a cancer researcher, serving as director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University. If you've been following the who'll-be-the-next-FDA-chief speculation, you know that some pharma observers were canny enough to suggest Torti as a top candidate to lead the agency, at least in the interim. And as those same observers pointed out, the interim job is just one step away from the permanent one.

Given the sad state of science at the FDA, putting a scientist in charge might be just the ticket. You'll recall that the agency's own Science Board gave it a scathing review last fall, saying that FDA is woefully behind the times, lacking talent, funding and technology. Since then, the agency has gone on a hiring spree and Congress has upped its funding (though probably not enough).

But just last week, agency scientists raised new concerns about its operations; they begged President-elect Obama to appoint an FDA chief who would stay out of their business. Management had been coercing them to spin their data, they said, and they want that to stop--and they want the agency culture to change so that they can act with integrity without fear of smackdown. We'll have to wait and see how Torti might deal with that one.

- see In Vivo's blog post
- check out the Wall Street Journal Health Blog article