The new US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner - Andrew von Eschenbach - has stepped down as director of the National Cancer Institute after his ability to carry out both roles in tandem was questioned.
Dr von Eschenbach, who is a friend of President George Bush, was appointed FDA chief in the wake of Lester Crawford's unexpected resignation on 23 September. His role at the NCI will be filled by his deputy, John Niederhuber, who will manage day-to-day operations of the institute.
Meanwhile, Crawford himself is facing an enquiry into his resignation by the US Senate Health Committee, and it has been widely reported that the trigger was the discovery of a lack of disclosure, during his Senate confirmation hearings, relating to certain financial interests.
Crawford was confirmed as head of the FDA on July 18. He had been Acting Commissioner for more than a year and Deputy Commissioner since early 2002 serving, in all, a total 30 years at the agency.
Critics had cited the long-time lack of a permanent Commissioner as a major reason for the FDA's recent difficulties, and Crawford's tenure has been marked by a number of major controversies, including the safety debacles over the COX-2 inhibitors and antidepressants and delays in deciding whether to allow the Plan B emergency contraceptive to be sold over-the-counter; the latter issue led Susan Wood, director of the FDA Office of Women's Health, to resign in protest in early September.
Legislators have also been strongly critical of the way in which the agency's relationship with the industry has developed, perceiving conflicts of interest.