Can an acting FDA commissioner make a difference? There is no clear answer, of course. Generally, such a role is seen as caretaker until, or if, a permanent choice is confirmed. But for now, Frank Torti, the agency’s chief scientist and principal deputy commissioner, will run the FDA. And, although Health and Human Services Secretary-designee Tom Daschle has said he wants to move quickly to insert agency heads, a new FDA commish is unlikely to be appointed for a few months, given the confirmation process.
Moreover, Torti is intriguing to many because of his background – he’s an academic cancer researcher – who gave a speech last May at the FDA Science Board in which he outlined his plan for his first 100 days as FDA’s chief scientist and “sounded like someone who was ready and willing to settle into the job for the long haul … Even the title of his speech had a political ring to it: ‘Science at the FDA: Vision, Plans and Timetable.'” (Partial transcript available through the RPM Report .) Maybe Torti will turn out to be more than a place holder.
Separately, Julie Gerberding is about to step down as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will be replaced by William Gimson III, the agency’s chief operating officer, until a permanent replacement is named. The Wall Street Journal speculates that a permanent head may be James Marks, a former senior CDC official who is now at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Helene Gayle, former CDC director for HIV/AIDS and president and chief executive officer of CARE; or Thomas Frieden, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Meanwhile, see the discussion at CDC Chatter.