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FDA Veteran Top Pick to Head the Drug Regulatory Agency

Lester Crawford is the likely choice for the next commissioner.

President Bush is reportedly considering a well-known food safety expert and veterinarian as the next commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Lester Crawford has been recommended for the post by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, and he's currently being vetted by White House officials, according to a report in today's online edition of

BioCentury Extra

, a biotech industry trade journal.

A formal announcement of Crawford's selection has not yet been made.

The FDA has been without a commissioner since Jane Heaney resigned the day after Bush took office in January. The lack of a leader at the nation's top drug regulatory agency has led to a

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slowdown in the approval of new products, and criticism from some observers that the agency has become too conservative.

Crawford, 63, currently directs the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy, a research institution affiliated with Virginia Polytechnic Institute. A licensed veterinarian, Crawford served as director of the FDA's Center for Veterinarian Medicine from 1982 to 1985. He then moved to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he was head of the agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service from 1987 to 1991.

If Crawford is chosen, he will be the first veterinarian to run the FDA.

In remarks made last week to the National Association of Manufacturers, Thompson confirmed that his choice for FDA commissioner had already been sent to the White House and that this nominee would get bipartisan support in the Senate.

"I talked to both the chairman and the ranking minority member on the health committee where this is going to go through, and both of those individuals are enthusiastic and supportive of it. So all we have to do is get the president to announce it and have the FBI do the background check," Thompson said.

The new FDA commissioner could play a very important role in the protection of U.S. citizens in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The agency will play a key role in boosting the nation's ability to defend people against potential bio-terrorism attacks, mainly through increasing the production of antibiotics and vaccines to protect against potential weapons such as anthrax and smallpox.