The Food and Drug Administration has selected a veteran agency official with considerable experience in drug review to head its Office of Women's Health -- a politically sensitive post that became a center of controversy earlier this year when its former director resigned to protest agency decisions on emergency contraception.
Kathleen Uhl, most recently the supervisory medical officer in FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, is scheduled to take over the post next month, according to an agency release that will be made public today.
"Her practical clinical and scientific experience is perfectly matched to the mission of the Office of Women's Health, and its commitment to exploring issues relating to health disparities and the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical trials," said a senior FDA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet official. "Dr. Uhl's knowledge of policy and medicine will help us in one of FDA's most important priorities: to champion women's health objectives both within and outside the agency."
Uhl will take over the position vacated by Susan F. Wood, who resigned in September after then-Commissioner Lester M. Crawford indefinitely delayed deciding whether the "morning after" pill called Plan B would be made more easily available. The application was strongly opposed by some social conservatives but just as strongly supported by most FDA medical officials, women's health advocates and an outside panel of experts. Its rejection led to sharp criticism of the agency, and charges that the decision was based more on politics than science.
Contacted yesterday, Wood said that Uhl "would be a good choice for the job." Wood said that she has frequently worked with Uhl and that "she is a long-standing advocate for women's health in the agency."
According to the draft FDA release, Uhl is experienced in laboratory and clinical research, clinical practice, drug application review, drug safety oversight and women's health issues. She came to the agency in 1998 as a medical reviewer and later was appointed deputy division director and acting division director of the agency's Office of Post-Marketing Drug Risk Assessment. Uhl is trained in family medicine and is a practicing physician at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The FDA's Office of Women's Health was created to be an advocate for women's health inside and outside the agency. It focuses on issues such as whether women are properly represented in drug and medical device clinical trials and whether women's health initiatives receive appropriate priority. The office also serves as a liaison with outside groups and industries involved in women's health issues.
Soon after Wood resigned, the FDA notified women's groups and others that it had appointed Norris Alderson, a man trained as a veterinarian, to be acting director of the Office of Women's Health. That decision set off a firestorm of protest, and two days later the agency said that a different FDA administrator, longtime agency official Theresa A. Toigo, had been selected for the position.