Sharpless, 50, has done extensive work on how cells age and become malignant. He sees patients at North Carolina Cancer Hospital, which is the clinical home for UNC Lineberger.
His selection drew praise from people involved in cancer research and treatment. Derek Raghavan, president of the Levine Cancer Institute, which is part of Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, called Sharpless an expert in “translational” medicine, with a deep understanding of both the research and clinical aspects of the rapidly changing cancer field.
Yet he noted that Sharpless is assuming the post “at a very tough time,” given the Trump administration's proposed budget cut of roughly 20 percent for the National Institutes of Health. As part of that, the NCI is targeted for a $1 billion cut. The new director “has some challenges ahead of him,” Raghavan said.
Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, said Sharpless is “very much qualified” for the position given his experience as director of a major cancer center and his strong track record as a researcher.
Sharpless, a native of Greensboro, N.C., earned his medical degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and an oncology fellowship at Dana Farber/Partners Cancer Care in Boston. He returned to Chapel Hill as a faculty member at Lineberger in 2002 and became head of the cancer center in 2014. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation.
The appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, came several days after the White House announced that Francis S. Collins will stay on as National Institutes of Health director. Collins also graduated from the UNC School of Medicine and did further training there.