Sharfstein leaves the FDA

Joshua Sharfstein, the second-in-command at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is leaving his position after less than two years in order to become the top public health official in Maryland.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who recently made the announcement, offered Sharfstein the position two weeks after John Colmers told the governor he intended to step down as Maryland’s secretary of health and mental hygiene, Sharfstein said, according to the Washington Post.

"It was not that I was looking to leave or was burned out," Sharfstein said in an interview with the Washington Post. "I was committed to the FDA. But opportunities like this don't come along very often. It's a really great job at a really important moment in time, and with terrific leadership in the state. It was impossible to turn down.”

The FDA has no comment on Sharfstein’s decision to leave, according to spokesman Karen Riley.

Sharfstein led the Obama administration’s FDA transition team and hoped to restore the agency’s public health mission in midst of the healthcare reform debate. Critics of the FDA had accused it of being too cozy with the previous administration and the biopharmaceutical industry.

After being chosen to help lead the FDA, Sharfstein reviewed the approval process for medicines and medical devices, Washington Post reports. He led an investigation into a controversial knee surgery device and took the unusual step of declaring that it had been accepted for political purposes. He also tried to get the agency to do a better job of explaining its purpose to the public.

At his new post, Sharfstein will be at the forefront of a large number of Maryland’s public health issues, including infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, mental health and health care reform. He will lead a department with a staff of 8,000 and $7 billion budget.

For his part, Sharfstein said his decision had nothing to do with the political situation in Washington.

“I’m ecstatic,” O’Malley said of Sharfstein’s return to the state, according to the Washington Post.