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Health Economist Takes FDA Helm

Donna Young

To improve the nation's public health, FDA must reexamine and update the way its does its job, said the agency's new commissioner, a day after Vice President Richard B. Cheney swore him in to the position at a low-key, private ceremony.

"We are not here just to check boxes on an inspection list just because that's the way we've been doing it for the past 20 years," said FDA Commissioner Mark B. McClellan. "We are here to implement the best possible approaches to reduce risks to the public health, using the budget and authority that Congress has given us."

McClellan's remarks were made on November 15, 2002, at a groundbreaking ceremony for the second phase of construction on FDA's new 130-acre White Oak campus, a 25-building complex located just outside Silver Spring, Maryland, due to be completed by 2010.

McClellan, a 39-year-old physician and economist who joined the Bush administration in July 2001 as an economic adviser to the president, is one of the youngest FDA commissioners to hold the position.

David A. Kessler, appointed FDA commissioner in 1990 by George H.W. Bush, still holds the record—by a few days—as the youngest person to take the agency's helm, said Lester Crawford, the agency's deputy commissioner, speaking at an FDA Science Board meeting.

Breakthroughs in new medical technologies, McClellan said, may require FDA to rethink how it can best design review processes for drugs, devices, and biological treatment. The agency, he added, must keep up with the rapid changes in the industries it regulates and be capable of developing and implementing effective and innovative public health measures.

Before joining the Bush administration, McClellan was an associate professor of medicine and economics at Stanford University. He also directed the university's Health Outcomes Research Program.

McClellan and a Stanford colleague were awarded the university's Kenneth Arrow Award in Health Economics in 1997 for their May 1996 Quarterly Journal of Economics article "Do Doctors Practice Defensive Medicine?" The pair concluded from their research that physicians are prompted to order more tests and therapies than they would otherwise do for fear of malpractice lawsuits.

According to an FDA spokeswoman, McClellan is on leave from his position at Stanford while serving in the Bush administration.

McClellan earned his medical degree from Harvard University and a doctorate in economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his residency training at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School's teaching affiliate in Boston, Massachusetts, and is board certified in internal medicine, according to the White House.

McClellan also served in the Clinton administration from 1998 to 1999 as the Treasury Department's deputy assistant secretary of economic policy.

McClellan comes from a well-known Texas political family. His mother, Carole Keeton Rylander, was reelected as the Texas comptroller in November and is the first woman to serve in the position. She is also a former mayor of Austin, Texas. McClellan's brother, Scott, is the Bush administration's White House deputy press secretary.