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Hamburg appointed as new FDA head

Published on 18/03/09 at 03:53pm

A leading public health expert has been appointed as the new head of the FDA.

President Obama has selected Dr Margaret Hamburg as commissioner of the FDA, who succeeds Dr Andrew von Eschenbach.

The 54-year-old Dr Hamburg has considerable experience in public health, and worked in the second term of Bill Clinton's administration.

After completing her medical degree Hamburg conducted research in neurology, but soon entered the field of public health. She joined the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in 1986 and secured her reputation by fighting the spread of TB in New York as the city's deputy health commissioner in the 1990s.

She was most recently worked at the not-for-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington, which works to reduce the global threat from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

There she was founding vice president for its programme aimed at defending against biological attack.

Announcing the appointment, President Obama said the FDA has been "underfunded and understaffed in recent years", but pledged to increase its funding.

"Dr Hamburg brings to this vital position not only a reputation of integrity but a record of achievement in making Americans safer and more secure," Obama went on.

The most pressing priority for the new Commissioner will be restoring public confidence in the safety of food. This comes after a number of contamination scares in recent months, including a major outbreak of salmonella in some brands of peanut butter.

Dr Joshua Sharfstein is to be Hamburg's principal deputy commissioner at the FDA. He is currently commissioner of health for the City of Baltimore.

Sharfstein has been identified as a critic of the pharmaceutical industry, having worked for Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who has been one of the industry's most consistent adversaries.

Sharfstein successfully pushed the FDA last year to block drug makers from selling over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for use in small children, but has also been an advocate of immunisation programmes.

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