- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Health Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday said the Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, the director of the National Cancer Institute, will serve as acting FDA commissioner when Scott Gottlieb steps down in early April.

Dr. Sharpless will fill the role while President Trump and his administration work “as quickly as possible” to name a permanent commissioner for Senate approval, Mr. Azar told Congress.

The FDA has a massive portfolio, ensuring the safety of food, prescription drugs, veterinary medicine and consumer products like cosmetics, while regulating tobacco products. It also plays a key role in approving breakthrough cures and medical devices and ushering cheaper, generic drugs to the pharmacy counter.

Dr. Gottlieb shocked Washington by announcing his resignation last week, citing the strains of commuting each week from Connecticut, where his family still lives.

Mr. Azar, who announced Dr. Sharpless‘ appointment in budget testimony to House lawmakers, said Dr. Gottlieb enjoyed an “incredibly successful tenure” at the agency before deciding to step aside. He oversaw efforts to combat opioids addiction and approve more generic drugs, while spearheading a contentious push to reduce vaping among teens through a crackdown on how flavored e-cigarettes are sold.



Dr. Sharpless, meanwhile, has led the NCI — a part of the National Institutes of Health — since October 2017.

Dr. Sharpless‘ deep scientific background and expertise will make him a strong leader for FDA,” Mr. Azar said. “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.”

Dr. Sharpless pledged to build on the priorities laid out by Dr. Gottlieb, Mr. Azar and the president.

Indeed, the cancer center chief tweeted his support for Dr. Gottlieb’s “bold leadership on tobacco control” right after Dr. Gottlieb said he was departing.

Those efforts have targeted JUUL, a key maker of vaping products, in particular. Shares in Altria, a leading cigarette company with a big stake in JUUL, dropped slightly after Mr. Azar announced Dr. Sharpless would be taking over.

Mr. Azar said Douglas Lowey, the deputy director of the National Cancer Institute, will serve as acting director of the institute when Dr. Sharpless departs for the FDA.

Dr. Sharpless had a long career in academia before taking charge at the cancer center.

He served on the medical faculty at Harvard and the University of North Carolina and authored more than 150 scientific paper and reviews. He also holds 10 patents as an inventor, according to his government biography.

Dr. Gottlieb said he approves of his replacement.

“He shares our mission and will be embraced warmly by the agency’s professional staff,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “Under his skilled leadership, I’m confident the transition will be seamless and the FDA will continue to secure its consumer protection role and advance policies to promote innovation and safety for families.”

The administration has been scrambling to keep up with steady comings and goings in Mr. Trump’s cabinet.

The Senate recently confirmed Mr. Trump’s nominees for attorney general and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, though his pick to lead the Interior Department, David Bernhardt, is awaiting confirmation and his defense secretary is serving in an acting capacity.

Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, is also serving in an interim role.

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