February 25, 2009 / 5:25 PM / 9 years ago

CORRECTED - PREVIEW-Advocates hope Obama boosts US FDA funds

(Corrects Sigal’s title in paragraph 3 to chair and founder, not president, as previously sent)

* What: Obama budget plan could help shape FDA funding

* When: Thursday, Feb. 26

* Advocates want recent funding hikes to continue

By Lisa Richwine

WASHINGTON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s budget proposal may give a sense of whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will secure more funding to boost oversight of prescription drugs, medical devices and foods.

The FDA is on the verge of winning a major funding hike for the current fiscal year, and advocates say it is vital for the agency to gain even more money in coming years. Obama is set to unveil an outline of his fiscal 2010 budget plan on Thursday.

“The agency has been starved for so long. It would be disastrous ... to start and not sustain it with predictable resources,” said Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of advocacy group Friends of Cancer Research.

Reports by the Institute of Medicine, an FDA board of outside scientists and others, have found the agency stretched thin in recent years with increasing responsibilities, outdated computer technology and a lack of adequate staff.

At the same time, the agency was criticized for lax oversight of risky medicines and foods, most recently a deadly salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter.

Critics in Congress have boosted funding in recent months while insisting that the agency improve its performance to better protect the public health. Congress is considering an increase to the FDA’s roughly $2 billion annual budget of $325 million for the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, a 19 percent jump from the previous year.

If the new money is added, the increase over the past 16 months will total $620 million, according to the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, a coalition of patient, industry and other groups that support an increase in taxpayer funding for the agency.

“This is an important downpayment on the FDA’s ability to fulfill its mission as the nation’s health protection agency,” Wayne Pines, the group’s president, said in a statement.

The FDA oversees prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical devices, most foods and other products that account for about one-quarter of the U.S. economy.

The coalition group is advocating a $386 million increase for fiscal year 2010, which starts Oct. 1.

Obama’s spending plan for 2010 will be considered by Congress as lawmakers craft the federal budget over the next several months. Obama must sign the final version into law.

Former FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, who left the agency in January, said it was crucial for FDA funding to continue growing in order to pay for adequate oversight of imported products and to complete other reforms.

Von Eschenbach had been criticized as being slow to acknowledge the agency’s needs as commissioner. He said it was important to have a detailed plan to rebuild the agency rather than just throwing money at it.

“I really think the next commissioner owes it to the next Congress to not just say ‘we need a lot of money.’ That’s obvious. What they have to say is ‘here’s what we need to do and here is the cost,’” von Eschenbach said in an interview. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine, editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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