Dr. Kessler is the former Commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration (1990-1997). He was appointed by President G. H. W. Bush and reappointed by President Clinton. He has also served as the Dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco and is currently a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF.
As commissioner of the FDA, he acted to speed approval of new drugs and placed high priority on getting promising therapies for serious and life-threatening diseases to patients as quickly as possible. He introduced changes in the device approval process to make it more efficient and ensure that it meets high standards. Under his direction, the FDA announced a number of new programs, including: the regulation of the marketing and sale of tobacco products to children; nutrition labeling for food; user fees for drugs and biologics; preventive controls to improve food safety; measures to strengthen the nation’s blood supply; and the MEDWatch program for reporting adverse events and product problems. He emphasized strong law enforcement and created an Office of Criminal Investigation within the agency. According to The New York Times (11/27/96), David Kessler “revitalized a beleaguered agency that had become mired in bureaucratic disarray.” The Los Angeles Times (11/27/96) praised him for “restor[ing] the Food and Drug Administration to what it was meant to be – an aggressive advocate for the public’s health.” With his departure, “[t]he American people lost one of their most effective champions” (New York Daily News, 11/28/96).
He is the author of A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle With a Deadly Industry (2001), which chronicles his tenure at the FDA, particularly the battle against tobacco, and the New York Times bestsellers, Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering (2016) and The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (2009), which is also available in a young readers edition, Your Food is Fooling You: How Your Brain is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt (2012). In addition, Dr. Kessler has published numerous articles in The New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and other major medical journals.
Dr. Kessler has a wide range of experience in research, clinical medicine, education, administration, and the law. He is a 1973 magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst and received his JD from The University of Chicago Law School, where he was a member of the Law Review, in 1978, and his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1979. He did his internship and residency in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 1986, he earned an Advanced Professional Certificate from the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration. He serves on the boards of various organizations including the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the recipient of a number of awards and honors. Dr. Kessler was named the “2008 National Hero” by the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley “for his leadership as the nation’s top drug regulator and his courage in challenging the U.S. tobacco industry.”