Peggy Hamburg: A Complete Response

  • by: |
  • 02/06/2015

The FDA is not a monolithic entity. The agency is comprised of over 16,000 dedicated public servants whose areas of expertise and responsibilities range from pharmaceuticals to food, veterinary products, cosmetics, medical technology, dietary supplements, and beyond.

No one person calls all the shots – but the Commissioner is in charge and sets the tone and direction of the body that regulates more than a quarter of the American economy. A really good commissioner is measured by the impact he continues to have once she has departed. By that measure Peggy Hamburg rates an “A.”

It’s fair to say that Dr. Hamburg came to White Oak at a time when the FDA was under a cloud. Whether or not the criticism the agency was receiving was fair (most of it was not) isn’t the point. Morale was low. Moral authority amongst constituents was fading. Global leadership was ebbing. PDUFA reauthorization was pending.  Peggy did not walk into a cushy job and had a steep learning curve.

As every FDA commissioner, she faced many issues. Some specifically worth noting:

·      The authority to regulate (at least after a fashion) cigarettes

·      Weathering the storm over opioid pain medications – and turning it into a public health victory

·      Advancing medical device review reform

·      Developing a regulatory pathway for biosimilars

·      Producing social media draft guidances

·      Expediting expedited review pathways

·      Expanding Expanded Access Programs

·      Identifying the need for 21st Century bioequivalence strategies

·      Facilitating adaptive clinical trial design partnerships

·      Rethinking FDA’s role in global harmonization

·      Forcing forward motion per Patient-Focused Drug Development

·      Beginning an Office of Pharmaceutical Quality

… to name only a few. That’s not to say that all of these items are tied up in a bow, that there haven’t been errors, blunders, sins of omission or that important initiatives are progressing to everyone’s satisfaction – far from it. But as Mark McClellan used to say when he sat in the Commissioner’s chair, “If some people think we’re moving too fast and others think we’re moving to slow – then we must be doing something right.”

A successful FDA Commissioner quickly realizes that a sure path to failure is to try to make everyone happy or micromanage. That ain’t the way it works. Peggy’s empowered the agency’s senior staff to follow her lead and do the right thing as they see it. The best example of this was her decision to allow Plan B (“the Morning After Pill”) to go OTC – publicly bucking political pressure from the White House to submarine the considered decision of the FDA’s professional regulatory staff – and quieting those who claim FDA decisions are “politically motivated.”

Perhaps most importantly is that faith in the FDA is stable and improving and staff morale is vibrant. Rather than the facile and ignorant drumbeat of “blame the FDA,” groups ranging from the pharmaceutical industry, to patients groups, Congress, academia, and healthcare practitioners are beginning to realize (some faster than others) that FDA is a crucial partner – indeed a senior partner -- in the innovation ecosystem.   

Peggy Hamburg is leaving the agency in a better place than she found it. She has successfully set the tone for the 21st Century FDA -- an impressive and gutsy millennial course.

And that’s as good a legacy as any commissioner could want.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

Blog Roll

Alliance for Patient Access Alternative Health Practice
Better Health
Biotech Blog
CA Medicine man
Cafe Pharma
Campaign for Modern Medicines
Carlat Psychiatry Blog
Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look
Conservative's Forum
Club For Growth
Diabetes Mine
Disruptive Women
Doctors For Patient Care
Dr. Gov
Drug Channels
DTC Perspectives
Envisioning 2.0
FDA Law Blog
Fierce Pharma
Fresh Air Fund
Furious Seasons
Gel Health News
Hands Off My Health
Health Business Blog
Health Care BS
Health Care for All
Healthy Skepticism
Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma
Hugh Hewitt
In the Pipeline
In Vivo
Internet Drug News
Jaz'd Healthcare
Jaz'd Pharmaceutical Industry
Jim Edwards' NRx
Kaus Files
Laffer Health Care Report
Little Green Footballs
Med Buzz
Media Research Center
More than Medicine
National Review
Neuroethics & Law
Nurses For Reform
Nurses For Reform Blog
Opinion Journal
Orange Book
Peter Rost
Pharm Aid
Pharma Blog Review
Pharma Blogsphere
Pharma Marketing Blog
Pharmacology Corner
Pharmaceutical Business Review
Piper Report
Prescription for a Cure
Public Plan Facts
Real Clear Politics
Shark Report
Shearlings Got Plowed
Taking Back America
Terra Sigillata
The Cycle
The Catalyst
The Lonely Conservative
Town Hall
Washington Monthly
World of DTC Marketing
WSJ Health Blog