Starting February 28, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will have a new director of its Division of Dietary Supplement Programs: Daniel Fabricant, PhD, the current vice president of global government and scientific affairs at the Natural Products Association (NPA). Fabricant will take on the role vacated last year by Vasilios Frankos, PhD, who left the agency to join the supplement company Herbalife as vice president of product compliance and safety. The news of Fabricant’s departure from NPA came on the heels of the announcement that Andrew Shao, PhD, is leaving his position as senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council of Responsible Nutrition (CRN) to join Frankos at Herbalife.
NewHope360.com caught up with Fabricant to talk about these latest senior management shifts within the natural products industry. Although Fabricant wasn’t able to discuss what his priorities will be once he is at FDA, he did reflect on his five years at NPA and what his departure—and that of Shao from CRN—will mean for the trade associations and the broader industry.
NewHope360: Congratulations on your new position with FDA.
Daniel Fabricant: Thanks. I’m really excited about starting this new career and getting over [to FDA] to a really good team. As [FDA Commissioner] Dr. [Margaret] Hamburg wrote in her very well written op ed to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. FDA is the global leader in the regulation of food and drug products. I am incredibly enthusiastic about my new role, but that is about the extent to which I can talk about the FDA side right now.
NewHope360: Then let’s focus on the five years you spent at NPA. What were some of the highlights for you?
DF: There were a lot. We created a natural seal. That was huge for the association and the consumer. That initiative put the consumer first and hopefully has brought some clarity to the marketplace in terms of what is a real natural product. The GMP [good manufacturing practices] program is getting stronger and better. We expanded the program to Asia and there has been quite a bit of work there looking at suppliers and making sure the industry is looking into the supply chain because there is the reasonable expectation that the industry does that. Expanding those programs in this country and into foreign markets is key. I was really proud of the work I did during my time as interim CEO of the trade association. I was also proud of the work we did with the Coalition to Preserve DSHEA, which is, unfortunately, no longer around but was very important for the industry.
NewHope360: You were also involved in helping to shape the food safety bill, correct?
DF: Yes. That effort also was very important. Americans deserve safer food so there had to be some key provisions in that bill. It wasn’t just me who worked on it. [Former NPA Executive Director and CEO] David Seckman and a lot of the staff here at NPA had been working on that since I got here during the 108th Congress. It took a long time to get food safety to move ahead.
NewHope360: How was the bill that was signed into law good for dietary supplements and the natural products industry?
DF: The law improves the food GMPs, which means the bar is raised for ingredient suppliers. That is critical to control any sort of potential contamination or other issues that would arise.
NewHope360: Your resignation has been described as a loss for NPA and for the overall supplement and natural products industry. Some I’ve spoken with say this loss is compounded by the fact that another regulatory and science expert on the trade association side—Andrew Shao—will soon be leaving CRN as well. Do you see moves substantially impacting the industry’s trade associations or their roles?
DF: I actually I just had lunch with Andrew today. He and I have always had a very good relationship here, between the two trades. I think the lesson here is that the industry really needs to embrace scientists. For a long time that hasn’t been the front and center focus for industry, but I think it needs to be. I am proud of the scientific team I have put together here at NPA, which included bringing in Dr. Cara Welch [PhD, program coordinator for the Scientific and Regulatory Affairs department at NPA]. That is the future—not just of this industry, but of any FDA-regulated industry.
NewHope360: Do you have any parting advice for the industry—what it should be focused on moving forward?
DF: The day and age we live in now is one of transparency. All of the marketing copy and all of the spin in the world doesn’t replace the need for real data and good science. That is something the industry needs to be wary of for the future.
Obviously I’m going to sound a bit self serving as a PhD, but I think people need to realize why things work the way they work with legislators and with regulators. Things don’t work the way they do because of friendships or relationships. There have to be cold hard facts, and I don’t think people realize that. Obviously, the [dietary supplement] industry is maturing; it’s 17 years into DSHEA [Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act]. And in any maturation process, those types of things become more important.
NewHope360: Do you see the role of the trade association changing for the industry? It sounds like you think they need to be much more science focused?
DF: I’ve always thought that. I thought that since the first day I arrived on the scene. David [Seckman], he certainly thought that too. I always enjoyed his vantage point on that. That’s not my call anymore, but I do think there is still a real need for that. You look at the roles Andrew and I were put in, and we were both able to excel because of what we brought—and what we brought was a lot of credibility, and I think that is the point.
NewHope360: What is your confidence level in the industry’s ability to heed your advice to become more science focused?
DF: That is a great question, but I really don’t have an answer. It’s one of those situations where we will see. There is really no way to call that one at this time, but it will be interesting to observe.