Sharpless Named Director of National Cancer Institute

June 13, 2017

Norman (Ned) E. Sharpless, MD, has been named director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) by President Donald Trump.

Norman (Ned) E. Sharpless

Norman (Ned) E. Sharpless, MD, has been named director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) by President Donald Trump. 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, will succeed Douglas Lowy, MD, who has been acting director of the NCI since April 2015. Lowy will continue on with the institute as a deputy director and researcher.

The appointment does not require confirmation by the US Senate.

Sharpless 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. He and his team are leading new efforts to apply the latest sophisticated analytics technologies, including cognitive computing, to speed up and determine more accurate cancer treatment matching. In addition, Sharpless is an attending hematologist oncologist at UNC Lineberger’s clinical home, the N.C. Cancer Hospital.

Sharpless’ research has focused on how normal cells age and undergo malignant conversion. His lab has extensively studied the interaction and regulation of the p16INK4atumor suppressor and the proliferative CDK4/6 kinases in aging and cancer.

“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 earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics from UNC-Chapel Hill and his medical degree from 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. In 2002, he returned to Chapel Hill as a faculty member at UNC Lineberger.

Sharpless was the 2007 recipient of the Jefferson Pilot Award, the 2009 recipient of the Hettleman Prize for Scholarly Achievement, a 2010 recipient of a Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging, a 2012 “Triangle Business JournalHealth Care Hero” and is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI), the nation’s oldest honor society for physician-scientists. He was elected to serve on the ASCI council from 2011 to 2014.

Sharpless has authored more than 100 research papers and is an inventor on 10 patents. He is on the scientific advisory board of several scientific research foundations, and is an associate editor ofAging Cell, and the deputy editor of theJournal of Clinical Investigation.

His lab has received support from the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research, the American Federation of Aging Research, the William Guy Forbeck Research Foundation, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Ellison Medical Foundation, and the Burroughs-Wellcome Foundation.

"Under Sharpless' 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. 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,” Bruce E. Johnson, MD, president of ASCO, said in a statement congratulating Sharpless on his appointment.

"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.

UNC Lineberger has announced H. Shelton (Shelley) Earp, MD will be appointed to serve as interim director of UNC Lineberger, replacing Sharpless. Earp is the director of UNC Cancer Care, which coordinates cancer care and clinical research across the School of Medicine, UNC, and UNC Health Care System. He previously served as director of the cancer center from 1997 to 2014.

“Earp is a most capable leader who has played a foundational role in the cancer center’s development and we are quite fortunate that he agreed to serve as interim director in the likely event Sharpless is named director of the National Cancer Institute,” William Roper, dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health Care System, said in a statement.