Last week the New York Times published an interesting hybrid of a piece that I found in the Health section, although its header was actually “Politics.” On its face, it is a sad human interest story of a cancer nurse who died of cancer, with the ironic twist that her husband is the long-standing head of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) division on cancer drugs, Dr. Richard Pazdur.
I, too, was saddened by the story, and could only begin to imagine the pain and frustration of the couple.
So why was the story labeled as “Politics”? Its headline gives a clue: “F.D.A. Regulator, Widowed by Cancer, Helps Speed Drug Approval.” Drugs are big business, and the pharmaceutical industry is one of the top spenders when it comes to lobbying politicians and contributing to their campaigns. According to the article, some cancer specialists speculate that Dr. Pazdur’s experience with his wife’s illness contributed to FDA’s faster approval of cancer drugs. Could a newfound “passion to fight the disease” by one man in a large bureaucracy speed up what is supposed to be a scientific approval process? As a doctor who used to work at the FDA, I found that most of the professionals at the agency were dedicated to evaluating drugs as expeditiously and thoroughly as possible. Indeed, the FDA approves most drugs faster than its counterparts in Europe and Canada, with most drugs approved in six to 10 months.