Since the US election, the question as to who will be picked as the new head of the Food and Drug Administration has been on everybody's minds.

Media reports have been rife with speculation but opinions seem to remain divided on who will secure the position. The current FDA commissioner, Andrew von Eschenbach, is expected to resign from his post before new President Barack Obama takes his place in the Whitehouse in late January.

Von Eschenbach was appointed by President George W Bush, but during the eight-year Bush Administration, critics say the FDA has lacked solidarity and consistency, and it has also faced heavy criticism over food and drug safety claims.

With the agency overseeing one of the USA’s most lucrative industries, many insiders have called for someone who will bring greater credibility, transparency and trust to the Administration. So, who are the contenders?

Current Director of the FDA’s Centre for Drug Evaluation and Research, Dr Janet Woodcock is the pharma industry’s top choice, according to

With 22 years experience with the FDA, including roles as Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer, Woodcock could be seen as a safe pair of hands, though some advocacy groups have questioned whether she can really enforce change.

Cardiologist Steven Nissen, a strong critic of the FDA’s handling of drug safety scares, is also a top contender for the position, though not favoured by drugmakers after a Pharmalot and CNBC poll found 75% were against his appointment. Nissen was involved with bringing to light last year the risks linked to GlaxoSmithKline’s diabetes drug Avandia.

Another challenger for the role is Joshua Sharfstein, a paediatrician and Commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department. Last year, he sought to get the marketing of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children banned.

Other candidates include: Susan Wood, former FDA Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health and professor at George Washington University; Mike Taylor, former Deputy FDA Commissioner; Duke University researcher Robert Califf; and industry consultant Mary Pendergast.

“Due to the vital nature of the FDA’s public health oversight, identifying a strong, independent FDA Commissioner should be among the first accomplishments of the new administration,” said Billy Tauzin, head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The position for secretary of Health and Human Services is also up for grabs, and the role is likely to be filled before a decision is made on the FDA commissioner position. Former Senator Tom Daschle and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius have both been named as possibilities.