Updated from 6:11 p.m. EST

The Food and Drug Administration has a new leader -- at least temporarily.

Dr. Lester Crawford was named deputy commissioner of the FDA on Monday, where he will serve as the senior officer at the regulatory agency until a permanent commissioner is named, said Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.

Crawford's name first surfaced as a possible FDA commissioner candidate in October. Crawford, 63, most recently directed 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 Agriculture Department, where he was head of the agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service from 1987 to 1991.

The FDA has been without a permanent commissioner since Jane Heaney resigned the day after President George W. Bush took office in January 2001. The lack of a leader at the nation's top drug-regulatory agency has led to a slowdown in the approval of new products and criticism from some observers that the agency has become too conservative.

But several consumer groups opposed Crawford as the permanent FDA head, mainly because of his industry ties. His appointment today to the temporary post suggests that he is now out of the running. That leaves David Sundwall, president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association, as the leading contender, according to BioCentury, an industry trade magazine. The only other candidate, Alastair Wood, was removed from consideration by the White House last week.

Crawford takes over at the FDA for Bernard Schwetz, a career FDA bureaucrat who has served as acting principal deputy commissioner since January 2001.

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