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CDC's Gerberding resigns; temporary FDA commish named

Two developments from the land of presidential transition: Julie Gerberding resigned as chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after six-plus years in the post, and Frank Torti, principal deputy commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), becomes the agency's acting commish next week to pave the way for new Obama administration appointees.

Gerberding, 53, announced her resignation late Friday in an email to CDC staffers, according to the Associated Press. An internist, Gerberding became the first woman to head the CDC when she took the helm in July 2002. CDC chief operating officer William Gimson will take the reins as acting director after President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in next Tuesday.

The CDC investigates outbreaks of disease, the cause and prevalence of medical problems, and promotes healthy lifestyles.

Gerberding was the public face of the CDC’s bioterrorism efforts after the anthrax mail attacks of 2001, explaining in media appearances that the agency was working to identify the pathogen and figure out how best to contain it.

But she was criticized by environmental activists who said she allowed White House officials to strip out a portion of testimony she planned to present to Congress when she submitted a written copy to them prior to a 2007 hearing on climate change. The part cut, according to the Atlantic Journal Constitution, said that as a result of global warming, “catastrophic weather events such as heat waves and hurricanes are expected to become more frequent, severe and costly.” Gerberding denied that her bosses had censored her. 

The FDA regulates the safety of the U.S. food and drug supply and has been led since 2005 by Andrew von Eschenbach, who will also leave with the Bush team. Torti, the former head of Wake Forest University’s cancer center, was named the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner and chief in April. That post involves quality and regulatory control of the FDA’s research.

Health advocates have floated several potential candidates to head both agencies. Among those reportedly in the running for the top CDC slot: former CDC officials Helene Gayle, now president of the nonprofit CARE, and James Marks, currently a senior VP at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and New York City Health Commissioner Tom Frieden.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein and Steven Nissen, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist who was a whistleblower on dangerous drug side effects, are said to be on the short list to run the embattled FDA, which has come under the gun for failing to adequately monitor the food supply in the wake of widespread salmonella outbreaks and melamine contamination in dog food and some baby formulas

Image of Julie Gerberding/CDC

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