Word on the street says the White House is close to naming former New York City Health Commissioner Margaret Hamburg (photo) as FDA chief. Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein (photo)--long rumored to be in line for the top FDA post--would be tapped as her right-hand man. The announcement could come as soon as today, RPM Report says.
In an unusual move, RPM reports, President Obama will tap Hamburg to oversee food and tobacco (provided the FDA-regulating-tobacco-bill makes it through Congress). Sharfstein will handle drugs and devices.
Hamburg is preparing for Senate confirmation hearings, after transition team co-chair John Podesta backed her for the FDA job. She brings lots of relevant experience to the party: She's an M.D. who specializes in bioterrorism preparedness research. She served as assistant secretary for policy and evaluation at the Clinton HHS. And there's her experience as chief of the NYC health department.
Sharfstein, as you know, has not only been an active commissioner in Baltimore, but as a former health policy advisor to Rep. Henry Waxman--who's now heading up the House Energy & Commerce Committee--he has strong ties to Congress. And that was the rub--or at least one of them--for pharma, which wasn't necessarily thrilled about the idea of Sharfstein as FDA chief. By putting Sharfstein in the No. 2 slot, Obama exempts him from Senate confirmation hearings, while still giving him power over the drug-and-device business. And giving him the "deputy" title also helps assuage worries that Waxman might pull all the strings at FDA.