Health groups try to steer FDA choice

We already know about the heated speculation on the identity of the next FDA commissioner. Now let's talk about the behind-the-scenes lobbying. As the Wall Street Journal reports this morning, health groups are doing some arm-twisting in an attempt to influence the appointment. Some 34 patient advocacy groups and research organizations--most of which get funding from pharma--have formed the FDA Commissioner Coalition and are urging President-elect Obama's transition team to tap someone who's familiar with the industry.

HHS chief-to-be Tom Daschle got a letter from the coalition saying that the next commissioner needs to be free of "pressure from elected and appointed officials and from the news media." And, the letter said, relationships with the pharma industry should be viewed as a "positive qualification" for the post.

Apparently, the groups are trying to undermine the urgings of some in Congress, who've asked Obama to populate FDA with agency outsiders and/or industry critics. Rep. Bart Stupak, who heads up the House Subcommittee on Investigations, wrote Obama in opposition to promoting any current FDA official to the top job; the agency's leadership now is "too close with the industries they regulate."

Even some of the coalition members that signed the letter wish it had included "industry" as one of the possible undue influences at FDA. As Marti Nelson Cancer Foundation's Bob Erwin told the WSJ, "I wish I had corrected the letter to include the importance of resisting pressure from companies, before signing."

- read the WSJ article