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WASHINGTON — Janet Woodcock, one of the FDA’s most powerful regulators, has an almost mythic reputation and an outsized personality to match. For years, rumors have swirled: Who could possibly succeed her?

Now, it seems, there’s an answer to that question: The FDA official who has been tapped to step into Woodcock’s role for at least a temporary stint is a relative newcomer — and until now, a relatively quiet, low-profile presence at an agency that has been thrust into the spotlight amid the coronavirus pandemic.


Her name is Patrizia Cavazzoni, and last month she was selected to stand in for Woodcock as head of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, the FDA subagency in charge of nearly all drug approvals, while Woodcock takes a leave of absence to focus on a Trump administration coronavirus initiative. It catapults Cavazzoni to the helm of the FDA’s most important office at a time when the agency is under more pressure than ever before in its nearly 114-year existence.

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