Candidates for the post of Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the incoming Obama administration should not be excluded from the post because of relationships with industry during their career, Mr Obama’s Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary-designate Tom Daschle has been told.

“We urge the early appointment of a Commissioner with impeccable qualifications in order to assure Americans prompt access to safe and effective medical products,” says a letter to Mr Daschle signed by 34 patient and research advocacy groups calling themselves the FDA Commissioner Coalition.

The Coalition tells Mr Daschle that ideal candidate to lead the FDA will have “the right mix of diverse experience and specific leadership qualities” and, crucially, that they will have: excellent scientific credentials, being science-driven and with experience in managing projects that are “translational in nature;” - proven managerial and administrative experience with the ability to execute effectively a forward-looking vision for the agency; - the capacity to build consensus around key issues related to the evaluation of products under review by engaging various stakeholder groups, including patients and their representatives; - the capability to rise above politics, “to elevate the science of FDA by taking an impartial approach to complex issues, despite pressure from elected and appointed officials and from the news media;” and - a vision for the advancement of evidence-based science in the drug development arena as well as the regulation of new and existing therapies.

Finally, the letter says, candidates “should not be excluded due to relationships with industry during the course of his/her career. In fact, diverse experience, including that with an FDA-regulated industry, should be viewed as positive a qualification.”

The Coalition letter does not put forward any of its own suggestions for candidates. However, the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog points out that almost all the signatory groups receive funding from the pharmaceutical industry, and that the move is being seen as an effort to counter growing speculation that the new administration’s final choice could be one of two committed industry critics – cardiologist Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic and Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore’s health commissioner, who is currently conducting an assessment of the FDA for the new president’s transitional team.

In fact, the Health Blog says, several observers have described the Coalition letter as “a manifesto for ABS – Anybody But Sharfstein.”

The current FDA Commissioner, Texas cancer surgeon Andrew von Eschenbach, will resign from the post effective January 20, the day Mr Obama becomes president.