Friday, March 23, 2007

von Eschenbach & Gonzales: Two Birds in the Same Bush

What do FDA commish Andy von Eschenbach and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have in common besides being "loyal Bushies?"

Both believe it is within their right to fire employees for no other good reason than they are not "team players."

More on that below. But, first, a little history.

Dr. von Eschenbach's remarks about dissent within the FDA at a recent Center for Medicine and the Public Interest (CMPI) conference was quoted in the The Star-Ledger of New Jersey:
He said he is committed to insuring all different points of view within the agency are heard and part of the deliberative process. But he added he won't tolerate whistleblowers who go outside the agency just because they disagree with a final outcome.

"The people have to understand to go outside that process is not constructive. It is actually destructive," von Eschenbach said. (See "Ex-FDA chief: Pharma goal at odds with safety")
Now, according the Star-Ledger Pharmalot Blog, von Eschenbach claims "My remarks did not in any way shape or form address whistleblowers." This under oath a couple of days ago in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The Star-Ledger stands by its reporting and invites readers to hear the audio recording of von Eschenbach's CMPI presentation on the CMPI Web site. "Not so fast, Andy," says Ed Silverman over at Pharmalot. "You were quoted correctly. But don't take our word for it. Go to the web site for the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and listen for yourself."

I tried to locate the audio on the CMPI site, but could find neither hide nor hair of it there.

Could it be that CMPI -- the same folks that bring us stridently pro-industry Drug Wonks blog (see "Drug Wonks Are PR Wonks") -- expunged von Eschenbach's presentation from its Web site? If so, CPMI no doubt acted on its own, not under instructions from von Eschenbach.

Or did it? We'll never know.

OK, so this is a bit suspicious. Yet, there's more evidence that von Eschenbach is taking lessons on handling employees from the same source that instructed Gonzales.

Will Drug Safety "Take One for the Team?"
According to the Pharmalot blog, last June von Eschenbach told a group of agency employees that he expects "team players" who can be "traded" if they don't cooperate. "Committee members had to remind Andy that it's illegal to interfere or retaliate against employees who share info with Congress."

It's unfortunate that von Eschenbach wants a team that is cooperative rather than one that offers debate and checks and balances. Can such a homogeneous "cooperative team" both approve drugs for marketing and then be expected to do the right thing to protect us from unsafe drugs? Or will drug safety "take one for the team?"

For more on this story, see "FDA chief vows to defend whistle-blowers."


  1. hi john,

    no reason to be suspicous. the playback is on go to the right and click on media events. from there you need windows real player and you must register.

    bob cohen of the star-ledger did that yesterday, in fact, after andy said what he did. moreover, i was speaking at the same cmpi conference where andy made his luncheon remarks and posted about it, which you can see from the link i provided in the post you have today.

    so it's all there for anyone to see...gotta match the congressional record, which now has andy maintaining he was misquoted. can't let that stand.


  2. Sorry, Ed, but I must be having a senior moment.

    I see this under "Events" on the right side on "The Media and Medical Science: Redefining Roles and Responsibilities
    Archived Audiocast"

    When I click on that, I indeed have to give my name, company and email address. I enter Peter Pitts, Himself, I gain access (hope the registration info is helpful to them), but the only "audio" is an 8-minute webcast about the big bad media.

    There's a schedule of the meeting and von Eschebach's address is listed there (not clickable) and there's a press release.

    So, unless I am missing something, I still cannot find the von Eschenbach audio archive.

    Are you sure you looked at this recently?

  3. Hi John

    Yes, Bob Cohen, my colleague, went back and listened to it, because we both wanted to doublecheck our notes and recollections.

    I don't know what to tell you about the difficulties. We both had problems at first. It's not easy to figure out, but it's not our site. So I wrote Bob Goldberg and his instructions helped Bob Cohen.

    No one should take my word for any of this, which is why I refer people to Bob Goldbergs's CMPI site. But I'm not going to risk Pharmalot's reputation, or pull Bob Cohen into anything questionable, by making such an assertion I can't back up. Who needs the aggravation?

    If you still need help, ask Bob Goldberg. Or I can put you in touch with him. He should be aware that people are having problems. For now, all I can say is try again. You're not that old.


  4. I am the litmus test. If I cannot figure out how to access something on a Web site, then no-one can.

    You cannot expect someone reading your post on this in Pharmalot who wishes to check your sources to jump through such hoops.

    If the source is not readily available on the Web site you cite WITHOUT having to call someone for instructions, then it's better not to have mentioned it at all. Or you might just say, "Available upon request from CMPI. Call for details."

  5. Hi John,

    You make a valid point, but I referred people to the site because the playback is there, even if the mechanics may pose a technical hurdle for some.

    In any event, Bob Cohen and I stand by what we wrote.

    ed silverman of Pharmalot.

  6. Ed,

    I trust your reporting without question. I think you know that. I can't say the same for CMPI.


  7. Anonymous10:37 AM

    Can't see what the big deal is here. Pharmaceutical companies have been firing people just for not being "team players" (i.e. those who argue with their management) for years. It's a common industry practice.

  8. Not a good defense of FDA being separate and distinct from the drug industry!


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