publication date: Dec. 15, 2017

“We’re gonna free the data,” Sharpless pledges at NCI Town Hall

By Matthew Bin Han Ong

In his first talk to  NCI staff, director Norman “Ned” Sharpless presented himself as an institute insider—highlighting his career-long relationships with NCI and its “legends,” demonstrating his grasp of the institute’s agenda and research portfolio.

“I think it has to be said that I had been closely connected to the NIH and the NCI my entire career,” Sharpless said at the Town Hall meeting Dec. 11 at the NIH Clinical Center. “In preparation for this job, I sought out every living former director of the NCI to see what I can learn from them. Those conversations were very interesting. They’re very different people. Each had a very different approach to what the NCI should do. But all of them told me, ‘This is a great and wonderful job, and the NCI is a great and wonderful organization.’”

If the new director’s  talk is an indication, he is likely to approach the job as an insider cognizant of importance of morale and recognizing the nuances inherent in managing and directing science—as opposed to an outsider seeking to impose drastic change in a heavy-handed manner.

The fact that Sharpless’s predecessor Doug Lowy, the former acting director, has agreed to continue as a deputy director—and the fact that Lowy agreed to moderate the Dec. 11 Town Hall, seemed to be designed to drive home the message of continuity.

Sharpless, who was sworn in on Oct. 17 as the 15th NCI director, had embarked on a five-month “listening tour” since his appointment June 9 to familiarize himself with the institute’s operations (The Cancer Letter, June 16).

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