Public Health Agency Leaders Being Replaced

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The leaders of a number of U.S. government public health agencies are expected to resign or be shown the door as President-elect Obama's team takes control of the White House.

Each of the current public health agency chiefs has severe critics on Capitol Hill and in the public health community, and there have been repeated charges that the Bush administration has let politics play a major role in science policy, The New York Times reported.

On Tuesday, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach said he would resign on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. Dr. Elias Zerhouni has already left his position as director of the National Institutes of Health, and it's widely expected that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Julie Gerberding will be replaced by the new administration.

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In addition, National Cancer Institute director Dr. John E. Niederhuber is expected to surrender his post, but may remain at the institute, The Times reported.

One leading candidate for the new FDA chief is Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a pediatrician and health commissioner of Baltimore. Last year, he petitioned the FDA to ban some pediatric over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.

Another short-listed candidate for FDA leader is Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. He's been a fierce critic of the safety of several big-selling medications.

There's wide agreement among drug companies, drug-safety advocates, and powerful members of Congress that the FDA needs a major overhaul.

"The FDA has increasingly lost its emphasis on public health, and all of us have been harmed as a result," Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, told the Times.

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