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  1. FDA Leadership: 1907 to Today

Charles Edwards

 Photo of Charles Edwards, M.D.

Charles Edwards, M.D.

12/13/1969 - 3/15/1973*

Charles C. Edwards, the son of a country doctor, was born in Overton, Nebraska in 1923. He transferred from Princeton to the University of Colorado, where he received both his B. A. and, in 1948, his M.D. degree. Edwards' surgical residency at the University of Minnesota as a Mayo Foundation fellow was interrupted from 1950 to 1952 by his service as a medical officer with the Marines in the Korean War. In 1956 he received the M.S. in surgery from Minnesota. During the following five years he was engaged in private surgical practice in Des Moines, Iowa, including positions on the teaching staffs of two area hospitals. In 1961 Edwards assumed a surgical faculty position at Georgetown University Hospital; at this time he also served as a consultant to the U. S. Public Health Service. He moved to Chicago in 1962 to join the staff of the American Medical Association, where he was assistant director for medical education and hospitals and, in 1965, director of the division of socio-economics. Two years later Edwards remained in Chicago but became vice-president for health and scientific affairs of the management firm, Booz, Allen, and Hamilton.

In December 1969 HEW Secretary Robert H. Finch named Edwards Commissioner of Food and Drugs. He remained at FDA until March 1973, a period of upheaval on many fronts for the agency. For example, FDA's organization shifted from a functional orientation to product areas; the agency budget doubled from 1970 to 1972; FDA was assigned responsibility for regulating biologics and radiological health; and cancer-linked cyclamates, botulism-suspected Bon Vivant vichyssoise, and mercury-tainted swordfish and tuna were at least temporarily taken off the market in massive operations. President Nixon nominated Edwards to assume the position of Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of HEW, the Senate confirmed his appointment, and Edwards began that position in April 1973. As assistant secretary, Edwards reorganized some components of the Public Health Service, such as giving greater standing to the Centers for Disease Control, and he aroused the ire of his former colleagues at the AMA when he proposed major reforms in national health care.

Edwards left government service in 1975 and became an executive with a medical device firm. In 1977 he was appointed president and chief executive officer of the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, California; in 1991 he assumed his present position as president and CEO of the Scripps Institutes for Medicine and Science. His honors include the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of HEW and an honorary degree from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. In 1990 HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan named Edwards to head the Advisory Committee on the Food and Drug Administration to review the agency's mission, structure, priorities, staffing, and budget. Edwards died in 2011.

*Sherwin Gardner, deputy commissioner from 1972 to 1979, acted as commissioner on three separate occasions, for a total of approximately 12 months, between the tenures of Charles Edwards, Edward Schmidt, Donald Kennedy and Jere Goyan.

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