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November 3, 2017
Sharpless Takes Reins as NCI Director

Dr. Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless was sworn in on Oct. 17 as the 15th director of the National Cancer Institute.

Though new to federal government, Sharpless has connected with NCI in many ways throughout his career. His NIH-funded research has focused on studying the relationship between aging and cancer and his clinical work included caring for patients with leukemia. Most recently, he served as director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, an NCI-designated cancer center in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he was also Wellcome distinguished professor in cancer research.

Supporters of the robotics challenge include (from l) FIRST Global founder Dean Kamen, Venebot team leader Kenny Urdaneta and NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew.
Dr. Ned Sharpless speaks to NCI staff at the annual NCI Director’s Awards and Appreciation Ceremony.

“Dr. Sharpless is an outstanding scientist, clinician and administrator and we are very fortunate to have him join the NIH leadership team,” NIH director Dr. Francis Collins wrote in a message to NIH staff. “His insight, influence and partnership will be critical for advancing cancer research at a time of unprecedented rapid progress.”

The day after taking the oath of office, Sharpless surprised staff at the NCI Director’s Awards and Appreciation Ceremony—a fitting first public appearance for the new director.

“I feel like I kind of already have won an award, which is that I get this great job,” he told the audience. “The talent, passion, commitment and care of patients—NCI is an extraordinary organization.”

Dr. Doug Lowy, who had been serving as NCI acting director since Dr. Harold Varmus stepped down in March 2015, warmly welcomed Sharpless at the staff ceremony. Lowy will continue to serve as deputy director for NCI.

“I feel very fortunate to have Doug’s help in taking on this new endeavor,” Sharpless said. “I am pleased that I can continue to look to him for his support and wisdom as he continues in his role of deputy director.”

Dr. Doug Lowy and Sharpless shake hands at the NCI ceremony on Oct. 18.
Dr. Doug Lowy and Sharpless shake hands at the NCI ceremony on Oct. 18.

A native of Greensboro, N.C., Sharpless earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics (with distinction) at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and his medical degree (with honors and distinction) from 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 to accept a UNC Lineberger faculty appointment in 2002.

As a practicing oncologist at the N.C. Cancer Hospital, Sharpless specialized in the care of patients with hematologic cancers. He is the author of more than 150 original scientific papers, reviews, and book chapters and is an inventor on 10 patents.

Sharpless is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians. He also cofounded two clinical-stage biotechnology companies: G1 Therapeutics and HealthSpan Diagnostics.

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