By Sy Mukherjee
March 12, 2019

Good afternoon, readers!

Well, that was fast. On Tuesday, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar confirmed that National Cancer Institute (NCI) director Ned Sharpless will become the acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner next month. Just one week ago, the popular current FDA chief, Scott Gottlieb, unexpectedly announced he’ll be stepping down from the position in early April.

Sharpless, a physician and prior director of the University of North Carolinas Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, drew lavish praise from both Azar and Gottlieb following the announcement; biotech stock indices spiked while tobacco company shares took a hit on investor speculation that Sharpless would hew to Gottlieb’s biopharma industry-friendly policy of ramping up drug approvals, as well as his open battle against cigarettes and vaping.

“Dr. Sharpless’ deep scientific background and expertise will make him a strong leader for FDA,” said Azar in a statement. “There will be no let-up in the agency’s focus, from ongoing efforts on drug approvals and combating the opioid crisis to modernizing food safety and addressing the rapid rise in youth use of e-cigarettes.”

“Ned is a friend to FDA, a great public health champion, a dedicated physician, and will be warmly welcomed into his new role. FDA will benefit greatly from his leadership,” added Gottlieb, who reportedly promoted Sharpless for the acting commissioner role (and perhaps even for the permanent position, in a tweet.

The NASAQ Biotechnology Index was up nearly 1% in Tuesday trading—perhaps not surprising given that Sharpless had previously co-founded a pair of biotechs himself and issued this statement shortly after Tuesday’s announcement via Twitter: “With so many new and promising cancer treatments being developed, the need for clinical trials to efficiently and effectively test them has never been greater.”

It’s unclear whether or not Sharpless will eventually be tapped for the permanent position; but he appears to have the requisite amount of establishment, and industry, respect.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


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