President George Bush’s nominated candidate for the role of FDA Commissioner, Andrew von Eschenbach, moved a step closer to securing the post yesterday after winning the approval of a Senate panel.

The Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) committee gave its backing to von Eschenbach and has now passed its recommendation on to the full Senate for a final decision, although opposition still threatens to derail the appointment.

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina has blocked a full vote on von Eschenbach’s appointment because of concerns about the safety of the abortion pill Mifeprex (mifepristone), sold by Danco Laboratories, while Senator David Vitter of Louisiana is opposing a vote until the importation of prescription drugs from other countries into the USA are legalised.

von Eschenbach has served as interim Commissioner at the agency for a year, but has seen his accession to the post blocked by senators concerned about his role in the FDA’s review of Plan B, an emergency contraceptive that languished at the agency for years but finally won a green light in August.

The approval prompted one senator who had opposed von Eschenbach’s appointment, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, to come out in support of the interim Commissioner.