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Leo Lutwak, 78; Ex-FDA Officer Criticized Its Ties to Drug Companies

March 05, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Leo Lutwak, 78, a retired medical officer with the Food and Drug Administration who became a fierce critic of what he viewed as the agency's capitulation to the drug industry, died of lung disease Feb. 23 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md.

A practicing physician as well as a Cornell University professor and a consultant to drug companies, Lutwak was a nationally known specialist on obesity and osteoporosis before joining the FDA in 1989.

In a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series in the Los Angeles Times in 2000, he said he joined the FDA because he relished the scientific challenge of new drugs and the call to public service.

In 1995, Lutwak was the lead FDA medical officer reviewing the diet drug Redux, which was similar to half of the now-infamous slimming cocktail known as fen-phen. Lutwak said he resisted approval of the drug.

"I, as the primary reviewer, felt the drug had had low effectiveness and very high risk for neurotoxicity and pulmonary hypertension," a disorder that damages the respiratory system, Lutwak told The Times.

Despite the warning from Lutwak and a superior, the FDA approved the drug -- only to withdraw it in 1997 after heart valve damage in some users.

A native of New York City, Lutwak graduated from City College of New York. He earned a master's degree in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Michigan and his medical degree from Yale.

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