The hunt for new US drug regulators

FDA initiates major hiring wave.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory body that certifies the safety of a wide range of consumer products, is recruiting scientists to fill 1,300 positions by October. This hiring surge — the largest FDA expansion since the counter-terrorism hiring initiative after the terrorist attacks in September 2001 — should strengthen its inspection and oversight capacity.

Most positions require advanced science degrees. But newly minted graduates with at least 30 hours of science coursework are eligible for 200 front-line consumer-safety positions.

The largest recruitment effort is that of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), the FDA group charged with reviewing the drug-safety process used to approve prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. The centre is hiring more than 400 employees in an effort to reduce drug-approval times.

Russell Abbott, director of the FDA's Office of Management, says he is trying to staff the new White Oak federal research campus, near Silver Spring, Maryland, but some positions are proving difficult to fill. These include mathematical statisticians and medical officers with an oncology speciality. He says the demand for cancer researchers, particularly in the private sector, is hampering recruitment.

Although there is no targeted recruitment overseas, international applicants can apply through the Visiting Scientist Fellowship Program.

So far, the FDA's embattled status — it has been criticized for lax drug-safety monitoring — is not hindering recruitment. It has already hired more than half the staff it needs. And although salaries at the FDA can't compete with those of industry, it can offer recruitment bonuses of up to 25% of pay, according to Kimberly Holden, the agency's assistant commissioner for management.

Abbott notes that FDA experience is a useful stepping stone to industry. “Experience of the FDA regulatory review process makes someone extremely valuable to pharmaceutical companies,” he says. Other perks include flexible schedules and working from home.

But Holden and Abbott maintain that the satisfaction of a career in the public health service is their best selling point. “If you want to be part of an agency involved in every aspect of daily life — food, cosmetics, drugs — this is the time to play a part,” says Holden.


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Gewin, V. The hunt for new US drug regulators. Nature 453, 1140 (2008).

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