Cancer Institute's Sharpless Tapped as Acting Chief of FDA

(Bloomberg) -- Ned Sharpless, the director of the National Cancer Institute, will be named temporary chief of the Food and Drug Administration, taking for now the post being vacated by Scott Gottlieb.

Sharpless will serve as acting head of the agency when Gottlieb leaves later this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at an appearance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The appointment of Sharpless, 52, could allay concerns by health advocates that Gottlieb’s departure would signal a letup in the FDA’s crackdown on flavored e-cigarettes and teen smoking. Sharpless has supported Gottlieb’s efforts to stem what the commissioner has called an “epidemic” of youth vaping.

In addition, the National Cancer Institute has worked closely with the FDA to fund research related to e-cigarette use, including the devices’ impact on smoking cessation. Gottlieb has viewed e-cigarettes as an important tool to help adults quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

Shares of tobacco giant Altria Group Inc., which recently took a $12.8 billion stake in e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc., fell 0.9 percent to $55.50 at 12:56 p.m. in New York.

Prior to joining the NCI, the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and training, Sharpless was the director of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. He received his medical degree from the UNC School of Medicine and did a hematology and oncology fellowship at Dana-Farber/Partners CancerCare, an oncology collaboration of Harvard Medical School-affiliated hospitals.

Sharpless also co-founded the pharmaceutical company G1 Therapeutics Inc., which is developing cancer treatments for certain lung and breast cancers.

The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index of stocks rose to a session high after the announcement that Sharpless would become acting commissioner.

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