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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Sharpless Steps Down as NCI Director

Head shot of Dr. Ned Sharpless

Dr. Ned Sharpless

Dr. Norman “Ned” Sharpless stepped down as NCI director, effective Apr. 30. 

“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. “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.”

Sharpless was sworn in as the 15th director of NCI on Oct. 17, 2017. He also served as acting commissioner for food and drugs at the Food and Drug Administration for 7 months in 2019, before returning to the NCI directorship.

“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,” Sharpless said. “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.”

“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 White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator Dr. Danielle 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.”

At NIH, Sharpless championed health equity; developed important programs in data science, including the Childhood Cancer Data Initiative; and advocated forcefully for policies to ensure continued support for investigator-initiated research in cancer and diversity in the cancer research workforce. 

“Dr. Sharpless’s 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 NIH acting director Dr. Lawrence Tabak. “Dr. Sharpless’s absence will surely be felt by his colleagues at NCI and beyond.” 

A smiling Lowy in the office

Dr. Douglas Lowy

NCI principal deputy director Dr. Douglas Lowy will serve as NCI’s acting director until a permanent director is appointed by the President. He served as NCI’s acting director from April 2015 to October 2017, following the resignation of Dr. Harold Varmus, and again in 2019 while Sharpless served as acting FDA commissioner.

Lowy also is chief of the Laboratory of Cellular Oncology in NCI’s Center for Cancer Research. His research interests include the biology of papillomaviruses and the regulation of normal and neoplastic cell growth.

In the 1980s, Lowy and Dr. John Schiller studied the genetic organization of papillomaviruses and identified the oncogenes encoded by the virus. More recently, they have worked on papillomavirus vaccines and the papillomavirus life cycle. Their laboratory was involved in the initial development, characterization and clinical testing of the preventive virus-like particle-based HPV vaccines that are now used in three FDA-approved HPV vaccines.

Lowy is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the NAS.

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