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harmaceutical industry leaders have welcomed US President Barack Obama’s nominations this week of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be his Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), and of health policy expert Nancy-Anne DeParle as director of the new White House Office for Health Reform.

Pres Obama’s previous choice for HHS Secretary, Tom Daschle, was also set to take on the role of health reform director, until tax issues forced him to withdraw from the running for both positions. Gov Sebelius’ nomination will require Senate approval, as HHS Secretary is a Cabinet post, but Ms DeParle’s nomination to be one of the new administration’s “czars” does not.

The President has made it clear that he wants a bipartisan, collaborative approach to mending the economy and reforming the USA’s broken health care system and that, as a two-term Democrat chief executive in Kansas’ Republican-led legislature, is something Gov Sebelius understands. And as Pres Obama introduced her at a ceremony in the White House, she stressed that health care reform “isn’t a partisan challenge, it’s an American challenge and one we can’t afford to ignore. We can’t fix the economy without fixing health care.”

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American (PhRMA) says Gov Sebelius is a “wise choice” for HHS Secretary. She combines the vital combination of skills – toughness and an intimate understanding of the challenges - that it will take to accomplish the job of shaping healthcare reform, said PhRMA chief executive Billy Tauzin.

Jim Greenwood, chief executive of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), also described her as a “strong” choice. “As a governor, former insurance commissioner and state legislator, Gov Sebelius will bring to the Department important insights and understanding of private and public health care programs. Her experience as governor also makes her well prepared to manage HHS which includes 65,000 employees responsible for public health, food safety, drug safety, scientific research and the administration of Medicare and Medicaid,” he said.

And Kathleen Jaeger, chief executive of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA) said she is “a proven leader…who can work in a bipartisan manner to get things done.”

Ms Jaeger also welcomed the broad experience which Nancy-Anne DeParle will bring to the new position of health reform czar. Ms DeParle, who is currently a managing director of private equity firm CCMP Capital Advisors LLC, and holds board memberships and directorships of a number of healthcare-related companies, served during the Clinton Administration as head of the Health Care Financing Agency (now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and was a member of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission during 2002-8. From 1987 to 1989, she was Commissioner of Human Services for the state of Tennessee.

Ms DeParle’s “outstanding expertise in health care as well as her strong working knowledge of how Washington works makes her the ideal person to assume this important position,” said Ms Jaeger, while Mr Tauzin commented that she “certainly brings a lot to the table with her breadth of experience in healthcare issues.”