President George W Bush is expected to nominate Andrew von Eschenbach, currently acting commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, to take over the reins of the agency permanently, according to media reports citing a person close to the situation.

Von Eschenbach has been acting commissioner of the FDA since September last year, after Lester Crawford threw in his sudden and unexpected resignation over an alleged conflict of interest.

But his temporary appointment was met with some objection, as he took on the role while still heading up the National Cancer Institute, and many believed that his focus would therefore be divided between the two organisations. In response to these criticisms, von Eschenbach later gave up his daily duties at the NCI in order to concentrate on running the FDA.

And since the departure of Crawford, drugmakers and industry groups alike have been calling for the speedy appointment of a permanent leader of the agency, which is responsible for drug approvals in world’s largest pharmaceutical market.

But it is this approvals system that has faced mounting criticism of late, as many question how products such as Merck & Co’s Vioxx (rofecoxib), approved in 1999 and then withdrawn in 2004 after it emerged that the drug increased the risk of heart attack and stroke, could slip through the safety nets and make it onto market.