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National Cancer Institute Director Ned Sharpless to become interim FDA Commissioner

Published on: 15/03/19

Following the surprise resignation of current FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb a week earlier, Dr Norman ‘Ned’ Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has been announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as a temporary replacement to lead the FDA until a permanent Commissioner can be found.

The National Cancer Institute is a division of the National Institutes of Health, directing billions of federal funds and research grants. Dr Sharpless has led the organisation since October 2017. Prior to his current role, he held the position of Director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center since January 2014, and has also served on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and the UNC School of Medicine in the Departments of Medicine and Genetics, becoming the Wellcome Professor of Cancer Research at UNC in 2012.

Dr Sharpless has voiced his support for the FDA’s work under Dr Gottlieb, including the tighter regulation of tobacco and e-cigarette use. Dr Sharpless has also been tied to the pharma industry in a similar manner to Dr Gottlieb – a fact which drew a lot of criticism upon the initial announcement of the current Commissioner’s appointment to the role; Dr Sharpless is a co-founder of G1 Therapeutics, the inventor of several clinical patents, and is noted to have received more than $5,000 in industry payments from Pfizer prior to his role heading the NCI.

Dr Doug Lowry, current Deputy Director of the NCI, will step up to fill the role Dr Sharpless is set to vacate when he assumes his new position in April.

“Dr Sharpless’ deep scientific background and expertise will make him a strong leader for FDA,” HHS Secretary Azar commented. “There will be no let-up in the agency’s focus, from ongoing efforts on drug approvals and combating the opioid crisis to modernizing food safety and addressing the rapid rise in youth use of e-cigarettes.”

Dr Gottlieb also voiced his support for his temporary replacement via Twitter: “I’m delighted by the announcement from @SecAzar that @NCIDirector will serve as acting commissioner of #FDA. Ned is a friend to FDA, a great public health champion, a dedicated physician, and will be warmly welcomed into his new role. FDA will benefit greatly from his leadership.”

Dr Sharpless also took to Twitter to remark on the announcement of his appointment: “Change is good, but bittersweet. It is difficult for me to say goodbye to @theNCI family as I head to @FDA to serve as acting commissioner. Rest assured that our shared goals for patients and the public’s health will translate into my new duties. I want to thank @POTUS, @SecAzar, & @SGottliebFDA for their support and encouragement. I also want to thank the amazing team at @theNCI for their professionalism and passion. Your dedication inspires me. I know you will be in great hands with @NCIDrDoug as the acting @NCIDirector.”

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