Dr. Sharpless would succeed Harold Varmus as the head of NCI.
Sharpless, 50, is a physician and currently director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He also holds an academic appointment at the university’s school of medicine.
It is the largest of the institutes at the National Institutes of Health, with a budget of about $5.4 billion this year. Douglas Lowy has been serving as NCI’s acting director since Varmus stepped down in early 2015.
“Sharpless earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and his hematology/oncology fellowship at Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care.
“A practicing oncologist caring for patients with leukemia, Dr. Sharpless also leads a research group studying the cell cycle and its role in cancer and aging. He has authored more than 150 original scientific papers, reviews and book chapters. He holds 10 patents that form the core intellectual property of two NC-based biotechnology startup companies.
“Dr. Sharpless is an elected member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians. He serves on the Association of American Cancer Institutes’ board of directors, and on the National Institute of Aging’s National Advisory Council on Aging.”
Several cancer research leaders praised Sharpless as a strong scientist with the right mix of research, administrative, and entrepreneurial experience to lead NCI.
He “brings impressive qualifications to this extremely important position, including his background as a top-tier physician-scientist and his previous positions … including his current role” as director of the Lineberger Cancer Center, says Michael A. Caligiuri, president of the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“Extremely smart. He'll be terrific for the field of cancer biology,” said cancer stem cell biologist Sean Morrison of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. And Ronald DePinho of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, who was Sharpless’s postdoctoral adviser, says he also has “strong interpersonal and communication skills that will serve the community well, particularly with Congress and its support for the NIH.”
Varmus, now at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, added his endorsement: “From everything I know, this is an excellent choice.”
According to Federal Election Commission records, since 2008 Sharpless has given financial contributions to former President Barack Obama’s election campaigns, and has also supported Democrats running for Congress.