In November 2002, Mark B. McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., became the 18th Commissioner of Food and Drugs.

McClellan holds a medical degree from the Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Division of Health Sciences and Technology and a doctorate in economics from MIT. He didn't have to travel far to get to his new office. Before coming to the FDA, McClellan, 39, served as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers and was President Bush's expert on health policy.

A native of Austin, Texas, McClellan "has tremendous analytical skills" and is well qualified to set the agenda for the nation's oldest consumer protection agency, according to a colleague at Stanford University, where McClellan taught economics and medicine.

Much of his research addresses health care productivity.

"He's an excellent physician and brings a deep understanding of economics and statistical methods to the job," says Alan Garber, M.D., Ph.D., who, like McClellan, holds joint appointments in economics and medicine at Stanford. "He will bring new and creative thinking to the process."

The new FDA commissioner also brings some first-hand knowledge of politics to the job. His mother, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, is the Texas comptroller and a three-time mayor of Austin. His brother, Scott, is a deputy White House press secretary.

Find out more about the FDA's new leader and his priorities in our cover story.

The number of asthma cases in the United States is on the rise, despite recent gains in research. According to the latest available figures from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the number of asthma cases increased by 75 percent between 1980 and 1994.

The reason for the increase remains unknown. Researchers are exploring genetic and environmental risk factors, and work is underway to find more effective treatments. We give you the latest information on the growing chronic lung disease asthma.

Solid science is the foundation for virtually all FDA actions. Each spring, FDA scientists, researchers, and others gather at the agency's Science Forum to exchange ideas and to display their accomplishments. We sample some of the offerings that will be at this year's event beginning on page 30.

We also take a look at new legislation designed to cut the time needed to bring medical devices to market without compromising safety and effectiveness and explain the new labeling guidelines on estrogen-containing products for postmenopausal women.

Ray Formanek Jr.