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.
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.