100 years at the FDA: Past and future challenges

The agency is taking the opportunity to reflect on previous successes and prepare for the next questions.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted June 19, 2006

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With a century of experience under its belt, the Food and Drug Administration is readying for an ever-changing set of challenges.

For instance, the agency's established role in ensuring food safety could be updated to include the responsibility of regulating food that increases the risk of chronic medical conditions such as obesity. Additionally, the agency will face the tests that come with the increasingly global society by seeking to develop better strategies to monitor foods, medicines and devices that arrive from overseas. It also will need to devise new ways to determine the safety and efficacy of complicated pharmaceuticals as well as figure out how to regulate interventions that combine aspects of drugs with devices.

These predictions were made by several speakers at a May 31 celebration in Chicago of the agency's 100th anniversary.

"The future looks no more like the past than a butterfly looks like a caterpillar," said Acting FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, MD. "We will build the FDA of the future."

Since its inception, the agency has expanded its reach to cover about a quarter of all products sold in this country, but most say that its most notable achievements are impossible to measure directly.

"Our greatest successes are things that have not happened -- the disease outbreaks that our nation did not experience, the devices and medicines that did not harm our people," said Janet Woodcock, MD, the agency's deputy commissioner for operations.

But experts say the approaches needed to ensure future drug and food safety will be far removed from those used in the early days when various chemicals were tested by being sprinkled on the food of investigators who were paid $4 a day. "Fortunately, we don't need to do that any more," said Andrew Bonanno, deputy regional director of the agency's Chicago office.

This event was one of a series of regional celebrations over the past few months that will culminate in a formal ceremony at agency headquarters at the end of June. It was co-sponsored by the American Medical Association, one of the organizations that supported the passage of the 1906 Food and Drugs Act that led to the agency's creation.

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External links

Food and Drug Administration Centennial (link)

American Medical Association history (link)

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