New FDA Head Sees Transformation in Medicine

Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, says that there is a revolution in the field of medicine underway and that his agency adapt itself to avoid impeding it.

FDA Chief Wants Transformation in Medicine (AP)

The incoming head of the Food and Drug Administration says the agency must stay on top of emerging discoveries into the mechanisms of disease that may lead to new treatments that can be tailored to individual patients. Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, tapped by President Bush to at least temporarily head the regulatory agency, said Sunday that recent research will lead to a new kind of health care. “We are discovering so much about diseases like cancer at the molecular level,” von Eschenbach, a urologic surgeon by training, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Based on these understandings, physicians will be able to devise treatments more effectively matched to a specific patient and his or her condition, he said. That’s a fundamental shift: Doctors now treat illnesses based primarily on how well other people have responded to a given treatment.


Von Eschenbach also discussed the perpetual challenge for the FDA: speeding new treatments to the market while ensuring they are safe. Sometimes those values are in conflict, as pressure from drug companies and patients to make new treatments available run up against incomplete or ambiguous safety data. “I believe very strongly that science has to drive and is the driver of our knowledge and our understanding, and therefore of our decisions,” he said. “Where science is incomplete, we continue to believe that under any circumstances, do no harm.” But with new treatments, von Eschenbach said: “I believe it’s still important to ask the question, ‘How can we accelerate the timeline? How can we make certain we are getting these interventions to the patients as quickly as possible?'”

A delicate balance, to be sure.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. cirby says:

    I get to sit in on a lot of medical meetings, and, if anything, I’d say he was understating the situation.

    The one that’s going to make a lot of controversy is genetic testing for drug efficacy. Yep – instead of just giving you a drug and hoping it works a certain way, they’ll take a blood sample, look at your DNA, and give you one of several targeted drugs based on which chromosomes you have. The big issue is that there is already one particular drug that works better on blacks than on whites…

  2. DL says:


    This whole area is one the verge of being one scary scenario. How long before we start deciding which genetic code doesn’t get the needed drugs? We have banned smoking. We are on the verge of the obesity police becoming reality. We call pregnancy and alchoholism a disease. Abortion is someone’s health choice. What other part of public heath will come under the Govt. control. Death?

    The problem is that our medical technology is way ahead of our moral theology!