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Dr. Ned Sharpless ’88 is on the move again.
Chosen to head the National Cancer Institute in 2017, the former director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center is set to become acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
Sharpless would succeed Scott Gottlieb, who plans to leave the post in April.
In announcing the change, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said: “We are going to be carrying forward Dr. Gottlieb’s vision. His agenda is my agenda. My agenda is his agenda.”
The Washington Post reported that Sharpless, who also received his medical degree from Carolina in 1993, could be a candidate for permanent commissioner. “He has never been confirmed by the Senate — which is not required for the National Cancer Institute post or acting head of the FDA,” the paper said. “But as a presidential appointee, he has been extensively vetted and has divested himself of financial holdings that could pose conflicts of interest.”
A native of Greensboro, Sharpless was a Morehead Scholar at Carolina, earning his undergraduate degree in mathematics. He completed his residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital and his clinical and research fellowship in hematology and oncology at Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care in Boston. He returned to Chapel Hill to join the faculty at Lineberger in 2002 and was UNC’s Wellcome Distinguished Professor in cancer research.
Azar said in a statement that Sharpless’ “deep scientific background and expertise will make him a strong leader for FDA. 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.”
The Post said: “In his relatively short tenure at the cancer institute, Sharpless pushed for increased data sharing, analysis and aggregation to develop new understanding and treatments for cancer. He also pressed to modernize clinical trials and worked to increase funding for academic investigators around the country, even when that required cutting internal programs.”