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Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D. - College Park, MD

This text contains Dr. von Eschenbach's prepared remarks. It should be used with the understanding that some material may have been added or deleted during actual delivery.

Speech before
The Harvey Wiley Federal Building
College Park, MD.,
on the
FDA Centennial Celebration

Remarks by
Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D.

Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs

Friday, June 30, 2006

Thank you, Mr. Secretary for sharing today with us, and most importantly, for your inclusion of the FDA as a prominent component of your vision to transform health care in the United States. Please express our gratitude to the President for his important message and our gratitude also to the members of Congress for their joint-resolution acknowledging FDA for 100 years of service to the American public.

I want to add my welcome to Commissioners McClellan, Henney, and Young and my fellow Acting Commissioners. The FDA has been blessed by your contributions of the past and is honored by your presence today. I want to welcome all of our distinguished visitors here today —and especially the staff of FDA.

I regret that there is no venue that could accommodate all of our 12,000 professionals, staff, contractors and students and no way we could bring together all of our 44 different sites in the Washington metropolitan area to the Wiley building. But in spite of the fact most of you are joining this ceremony by virtual electronic video cast, I want everyone to know that the family of FDA is together and present here today for this celebration — and so to the entire family of FDA I say HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

A BIRTHDAY… A day each of us celebrates in our lives. A day on which we look back and recall the progress and the experiences of life over the past year or years and we take count and we celebrate.

Today on our FDA birthday we look back and we count 100 years of growth and achievement and we have a lot to celebrate. We celebrate accomplishments too numerous to count, but they are accomplishments that have transformed our nation and the world. We recount initiatives that have assured the safety and nutritional value of 80 percent of all the food we eat, programs that have certified that drugs, biologics, and medical devices are safe and effective, and the cosmetics we use and the food we provide our pets and animals will not cause harm.

It is a HAPPY birthday! We have much to celebrate, we began in 1906 when there was nothing, and today we are something. Something the world recognizes and celebrates as the Gold Standard. But a birthday is also a day of birth — a day of renewal and a day not just for recounting the experiences of the past but a day for looking forward at our expectations for the years still to come.

Today FDA has much to look forward to as it leads our nation and the world through a time of radical change in creating health and eliminating disease. A time in which, because of exponential progress in science and technology, we are moving into an era of genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, when our very concepts of health and disease will change. A time in which the world will ask more and expect more of FDA, to deal with increasing threats intentional or unintentional to our food supply, to complexity in drugs and biologics brought about by emerging progress in molecular biology and opportunities to eliminate the suffering and death threats like cancer, the risk of pandemic flu, of medical devices that will be bioengineered, miniaturized, and increasingly autonomous in evaluating and modulating our state of health. Even a seemingly simplistic area like cosmetics will be made complex by the introduction of nanotechnology and nanoparticles.

Happy Birthday! Today we celebrate the accomplishments of the past but we must also embrace our expectations of the future. Birthdays remind us we will not be the same next year as last, the FDA of the future will not be the FDA of the past. The world we serve is changing and so must we.

The FDA will be science led into the future of molecular medicine and personalized health. The FDA must embrace the tools of modern science and information technology as it moves forward from this day of birth. There is much to discuss at a later time about the detail of those changes and what we will become. But today is our birthday and it is best to reflect on what we treasure and value the most about our past and what we aspire to become in the future.

I want to share two stories. The story of Ballard and the story of Joann

A few weeks ago I received an email from Ballard who is an FDA retiree with long service at FDA. He wrote to me to congratulate the FDA on its birthday and to share that he had made it a point to travel to attend three of the FDA centennial events in Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit and I might add he is here today.

What he wanted to share was his pride and the honor and the good fortune that he felt in having been a part of FDA and having contributed to its history. He shared that it was a thrill for him to witness the reverence displayed for the agency and the testimony to its importance to the country. Ballard reminds us of not just the success and accomplishments but also the values and principles we must cherish from the past and take with us into the future — the values of honor, service and excellence. These are and will always be what has and will assure the greatness of FDA.


One evening last weekend, I spoke on the phone to Joann, who was seeking an answer to the most important question in her life. She is 33 and a wife and a mother, over the past few birthdays, she has been struggling to overcome a diagnosis of a malignant sarcoma in her abdomen. She has had surgery and multiple courses of chemotherapy and now the sarcoma has recurred and it has spread and it is growing. She was calling to ask the question IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE?

At one point she was reading to me the results of her most recent CT scan and relating the growth in measurements of the tumors in her pelvis that wrapped around her intestine, and the one in her liver. As she bravely and courageously read her death warrant she asked Is there anything else? In the midst of her question there was a noise in the background and she apologized for the commotion and explained that the noise was coming from the celebration of her 7 year old daughter’s birthday. Joann’s question to me – and to you - Is there anything else? Is the defining question for FDA on this day of birth. There will be nothing else without the FDA of the future.

Positioned as the bridge between discovery and the delivery to patients and the public of anything else, that will make certain our food will make us and our children healthy and not sick, FDA will determine if there is anything else to bring safe and effective new drugs, biologics and devices that are integrated into solutions that are personalized, predictive of a long healthy life and preventative of diseases whether it is cancer, Alzheimer’s or the threat of pandemic flu. Because it is the bridge that uses the tools of science and technology to create health, there will be nothing else without the FDA.

The weeks to come will determine if there is anything else for Joann and whether she will celebrate her daughter’s 8th birthday. But in the years to come, the FDA will define whether there is anything else that will assure a multitude of healthy and happy birthdays for millions of people in this country and around the world.

We are the FDA – the bridge from the promise of discovery to the development and delivery of a future of hope and great expectations. We must be a new bridge designed and built by science and technology – we must be a strong and unified bridge with all the parts and pieces bonded together by the integrity and trust that has made Ballard so proud. We must be a strong bridge capable of carrying not only the products of the molecular era, but carrying the hopes and aspirations of people like Joann.

It is a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! It’s a great day to celebrate the past and a great day of expectation for the future. But FDA will not do this alone, and we are blessed by the support of so many.

Thank you all!