Skip to content

The Cancer Letter — Reflecting on Janet Woodcock’s retirement from FDA

The Cancer Letter — Reflecting on Janet Woodcock’s retirement from FDA

The story of Janet Woodcock’s illustrious career is not just one of professional achievements; it’s a tale of enduring partnerships, empathetic leadership, and unwavering commitment to science and patient care that will continue as she leaves public service this year.

My 25-year friendship with Janet began at a time when skepticism about the FDA’s role in cancer was rampant. Yet, it was her openness to addressing these challenges that marked the start of a transformative era.

Our initial meeting, focusing on the complexity of organizational issues within the FDA, blossomed into a partnership that would reshape the landscape of cancer treatment and regulation. Together, Janet and the entire cancer community embarked on a monumental restructuring of cancer policies, laying the groundwork for a more rational and effective approach.

What truly sets Janet apart is her empathy and commitment. Her leadership at the FDA wasn’t just about implementing changes; it was about weathering storms with a relentless focus on science and a deep understanding of what true leadership means.

Janet’s honesty and directness were refreshing; with her, there was never any guesswork—she told it like it was, regardless of whether the news was good or bad.

Her ability to evolve with changing science and evidence is noteworthy. Janet recognized that regulatory decisions must be based on substantial evidence, understanding that we may never have all the answers, yet decisions impacting patients must be made with strong thresholds.

Janet’s openness extended beyond the walls of the FDA. She actively engaged with the wider community, listening and interacting, ensuring her decisions were informed by a comprehensive understanding of the issues at hand. This trait was vividly displayed during her critical work in the COVID-19 pandemic, where she worked tirelessly, demonstrating her deep commitment and love for the agency and its mission.

She was unafraid to stand her ground with multiple commissioners, always making her position clear and sparing no one when disagreements arose. This fearlessness, combined with her selflessness in her work, changed the course of science and patient care. Janet always believed in serving the community, ensuring patients had access to the latest treatments and trials.

As she steps out of her role in public service, Janet Woodcock’s selfless career leaves a legacy of profound influence on patient care, regulatory science, and the world.

For me, she has been more than a colleague; she has been a steadfast friend and the most admirable individual I have ever known. Her impact on the FDA, the medical community, and millions of lives will be felt for generations to come.