Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, M.D., announced last week that he will step down as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, at the end of the month. NCI Principal Deputy Director Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., will serve as NCI’s acting director effective April 30, 2022.
Sharpless became the 15th director of NCI on Oct. 17, 2017. He also served as Acting Commissioner for Food and Drugs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for seven months in 2019, before returning to the NCI directorship.
“Working at the National Cancer Institute has been the highlight of my career, and I am honored to have had the chance to serve my country in this role, alongside so many talented scientists and administrators,” Sharpless said in a press release. “I leave this job knowing that the talent and passion present at NCI, across the Biden-Harris Administration and throughout the cancer research community will continue to fuel tremendous progress for people with cancer in the years ahead.
“During my time in the federal government, I have been inspired by the ways that researchers, caregivers, advocates, and survivors have broken down silos to collaborate and embrace new ways of working together to solve some of the toughest problems in cancer. President Biden’s continued commitment to the Cancer Moonshot will foster even greater progress. The community stands ready to meet the President’s call to end cancer as we know it.”
Danielle Carnival, White House Cancer Moonshot Coordinator noted that the work of Sharpless and the team at NCI has set a strong foundation for the continuing work of the Cancer Moonshot program. “The President’s goal of ending cancer as we know it today is grounded, in part, in the work of scientific discovery that Ned Sharpless has led at NCI,” said Carnival. “We have an audacious but achievable goal to reduce the cancer death rate by at least half in 25 years and to improve the experience of all whose lives are impacted by cancer—working across government to develop and deploy additional ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer—and Dr. Sharpless contributed greatly to that vision.”
During his tenure Sharpless has championed health equity; developed important programs in data science, including the Childhood Cancer Data Initiative; and advocated for policies to ensure continued support for investigator-initiated research in cancer and diversity in the cancer research workforce, which included the creation of NCI’s Equity and Inclusion Program in the summer of 2020.
Sharpless’ work through the COVID-19 pandemic has also won acclaim from the cancer community as the NCI worked to minimize the impact of the pandemic of people with cancer.
“Dr. Sharpless’ ability to manage complex problems has been invaluable to several NIH initiatives, including the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and improving equity and inclusion, and in his role as chair of the NIH Clinical Center Governing Board,” said Acting NIH Director Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.
For Lowy this will mark his third stint as acting director of NCI. He first served in that position from April 2015 to October 2017, following the resignation of Harold Varmus, M.D., and again in 2019 while Sharpless served as acting commissioner of FDA.