Newly-inaugurated Food and Drug Administration chief, Andrew von Eschenbach, has faced his first barrage of criticism in his new role and – as a consequence – has temporarily stepped down from his former position heading up the government’s National Cancer Institute.

Dr von Eschenbach – a family friend of President George Bush – was appointed FDA chief in the wake of Lester Crawford’s shock resignation on September 23 [[26/09/05a]]. He originally stressed that he would perform both roles in tandem, but faced concerns that the agency would suffer from having a part-time eye on it – particularly in light of recent questions over lax oversight – as well as accusations that he could have a biased view in the approval process of NCI-developed cancer drugs.

In an email to staff, and reported by Reuters, Dr von Eschenbach revealed he would be “devoting his energies to the work of the FDA” and said that his role at the NCI would essentially be filled by his deputy, John Niederhuber, who will manage day-to-day operations. In addition, Dr von Eschenbach will not participate in any review of NCI cancer drugs to avoid charges of conflict of interest.

However, mutterings still abound, and Senator Edward Kennedy – who has called for a full-scale investigation into the reasons for Dr Crawford’s departure [[30/09/05a]] – said in a statement that the reorganisation “does not go far enough” to stop concerns over the appointment.