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Personnel File - June 2008: Research

Frank M. Torti

Deputy Commissioner and Chief Scientist

U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Rockville, MD

In May, Torti, 60, departed Winston-Salem and his job as director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center for the Washington, D.C., suburbs to take up a new position at the FDA. An experienced clinical researcher specializing in urologic oncology, he will oversee research efforts and launch a fellowship program created, like his job, by the FDA Amendments Act of 2007. Called the most comprehensive reform of FDA operations in a decade, the legislation increases the agency’s regulatory authority to monitor the safety of drugs and medical products and strengthens food-safety requirements. A New Jersey native and graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Medical School, Torti earned a master’s degree from Harvard School of Public Health and serves on the National Institutes of Health advisory council for complementary and alternative medicine.

You had been at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center since 1993, serving as a professor of medicine, chairman of the cancer biology department and director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center. Why do you think the FDA approached you for its new position?

You never know for sure. I knew Dr. [Andrew] von Eschenbach [his new boss, the FDA commissioner] because he headed the National Cancer Institute, and so we had worked together on several projects. I guess he liked my work.

What are the major strengths you’ll bring to the job, as a scientist and an administrator?

Having been involved at a deep level and having drilled down on many of these issues either in my own laboratory or as director of the cancer center gives me an enormous edge in terms of being able to help. It just makes all the difference if you really understand these issues that you’re going to have to deal with. A skill that no one asked me about but one that you develop as a cancer-center director is bringing people together across departments and themes.

What are your hopes for this position?

There’s an enormous amount that needs to be done and I believe can be done to help guide the FDA’s scientific efforts, scientific vision and initiatives. I think there’s a recognition that science is changing and that the FDA needs to be not only cognizant of these changes but in many cases lead them so it can facilitate the development of safe, effective drugs. The whole area of biomarkers, which has to do with genomics, proteomics and metabolomics, is an area where there will be products of many types that will be available in the future that haven’t been through the FDA review system in the past.