publication date: Jun. 10, 2017

Norman “Ned” Sharpless named NCI director by Trump administration

By Paul Goldberg

President Donald Trump named Norman “Ned” Sharpless to serve as the next NCI director. The appointment was announced late on June 9.

Sharpless, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will replace Douglas Lowy, who has served as acting director since Harold Varmus stepped down as director in March 2015.

The position doesn’t require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

The decision to appoint Sharpless, a scientist and cancer center director, comes three days after Trump appointed Francis Collins to head NIH. Sharpless is described by colleagues as a solid, mainstream choice, which—in an optimistic interpretation—suggests continuity for the institute.

In addition to having the experience of running a comprehensive cancer center, Sharpless is a top-tier scientist. His research has focused on the control of the cell cycle, particularly by the INK4a/ARF (or CDKN2a) tumor suppressor locus which encodes the p16INK4a and ARF cancer suppressors. 

Collins, who has strong support on Capitol Hill, may be in a position to protect NIH at a time when the administration appears to value biomedical research less than it values defense and border security. The president’s budget proposal seeks to slash NIH by 21 percent and cut indirect costs charged by institutions that house NIH-funded researchers (The Cancer Letter, May 26).

Collins graduated from the UNC School of Medicine and did his internship and residency at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill.

Sharpless has been director of the UNC cancer center since Jan. 1, 2014. He was an internal candidate, who succeeded his mentor H. Shelton “Shelley” Earp.

“Ned is a creative force with an encyclopedic knowledge of clinical oncology and a remarkable grasp of the core sciences, cancer biology and genomics,” Earp said in a statement at the time Sharpless was selected to replace him. “His stature as a nationally-recognized clinician scientist, his energy, and his North Carolina roots make him the perfect choice as the next leader of North Carolina’s public comprehensive cancer center.”

Sharpless’s profile is posted here.

Sharpless was apparently not chosen based on his politics. Federal Election Commission records show that he has made campaign contributions to Democrats, including a $250 contribution to the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008 and a $500 contribution to the Obama Victory Fund in 2012.

The appointment was announced late Friday, well after the president left Washington, as part of a large number of appointments.


The White House announcement reads:

*Norman Sharpless of North Carolina will serve as the Director of the National Cancer Institute, Department of Health and Human Services*. Norman E. Ned Sharpless, MD, is director of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and a Wellcome Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Dr. Sharpless earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and his hematology/oncology fellowship at Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care. A practicing oncologist caring for patients with leukemia, Dr. Sharpless also leads a research group studying the cell cycle and its role in cancer and aging. He has authored more than 150 original scientific papers, reviews and book chapters. He holds 10 patents that form the core intellectual property of two NC-based biotechnology startup companies. Dr. Sharpless is an elected member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians. He serves on the Association of American Cancer Institutes’ board of directors, and on the National Institute of Aging’s National Advisory Council on Aging.

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