Just hours after U.S. President Joe Biden was inaugurated, Janet Woodcock, M.D., officially took the reins at the FDA. She will service as acting commissioner in an anticipated appointment, taking over for Stephen Hahn, M.D., whose one-year tenure was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic and claims of political gamesmanship.
Woodcock is a veteran at the FDA, heading the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research since 2008 and previously from 1994 to 2005, for a total 23 years as director. She served in the FDA commissioner’s office from 2005 until 2008 in several roles, including deputy commissioner, chief medical officer and chief operating officer. She most recently worked as part of Operation Warp Speed, overseeing COVID-19 therapy development.
In an introductory note to FDA staffers, Woodcock wrote that she would continue to recuse herself from agency decision-making on the COVID-19 therapies she oversaw, which did not include vaccines.
“I know you all have endured hardships while carrying out our public health mission, balancing work and family, and trying to stay safe. It has not gone unnoticed,” she wrote. “… I believe life will improve in 2021, but I don’t know how quickly that will happen. The hope keeps me going.”
While Woodcock did not say how long she will remain in the role, simply referring to “this transitional period,” the FDA commissioner is a political appointment that's nominated by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate.
Since news leaked last week that Woodcock would take the interim job, media reports have also indicated that she is in the running for the permanent position. Meanwhile, former Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, M.D., is also seen as a finalist for the permanent FDA role. He served under FDA Commissioner Peggy Hamburg, M.D., during President Barack Obama’s first term and is currently public health dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Hahn’s farewell to the FDA came earlier in the day in a five-tweet thread thanking FDA employees for their COVID-19 response and “dedication and resilience.” He urged them to remain “#FDAStrong.”