Sharpless Tapped as NCI Director

Norman (Ned) E. Sharpless has been named as the next director of the National Cancer Institute.

Norman E. Sharpless, MD

Norman (Ned) E. Sharpless has been named as the next director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Sharpless, director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Wellcome Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research, replaces Douglas Lowy, MD. Lowy has been acting director since April 2015, and will stay with the institute as a deputy director and researcher.

The appointment does not require confirmation by the US Senate.

“Sharpless is a visionary leader and a truly gifted scientist and clinician, and we strongly agree he would be an excellent choice to lead the National Cancer Institute into the future,” said UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol L. Folt.

Sharpless, an attending hematologist/oncologist at the NC Cancer Hospital, has served as director of UNC Lineberger since January 2014. He also co-directs UNCseq, a large UNC human clinical trial using next-generation sequencing of tumor DNA to define optimal chemotherapy in patients with advanced cancer in real time. His research has focused on how normal cells age and undergo malignant conversion, and his lab has extensively studied the interaction and regulation of the p16INK4a tumor suppressor and the proliferative CDK4/6 kinases in aging and cancer.

“Under Sharpless’s leadership, NCI will be tasked with delivering on the promise of precision medicine and the recently funded Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot, for which the first of 7 years of scheduled funding has been provided,” Bruce E. Johnson, MD, president of ASCO, said in a statement congratulating Sharpless on his appointment. “At the same time, the agency faces potential budget cuts that would disable cancer research progress. With recent research showing Americans have gained millions of years from federally funded cancer trials, NCI’s work needs to be nurtured and sustained.”

“ASCO looks forward to working with Sharpless and the dedicated professionals at NCI in ensuring the United States' preeminence in biomedical research. We remain committed to NCI's mission and will continue to advocate for continued support of our nation's critical investment in its life-saving work," Johnson said.

Sharpless holds a BS in mathematics from UNC-Chapel Hill and earned his medical degree at the UNC School of Medicine. 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 as a faculty member at Lineberger in 2002.

He is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI), the nation’s oldest honor society for physician-scientists, and served on the ASCI council from 2011 to 2014.

The author of more than 100 research papers, Sharpless is also an inventor who holds 10 patents. He sits on the scientific advisory board of several scientific research foundations, and serves as an associate editor of the journal Aging Cell and deputy editor of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Former UNC Lineberger director H. Shelton (Shelley) Earp, MD, will return to the position on an interim basis while the center looks for a permanent leader. Earp is the current director of UNC Cancer Care, which coordinates cancer care and clinical research across the School of Medicine, UNC, and the UNC Health Care System. He served as director of the cancer center from 1997 to 2014.