The National Cancer Institute is poised to enter a new phase, under the leadership of Norman (Ned) Sharpless, following the June 9 announcement by the White House of the president’s choice to fill the large shoes left by Harold Varmus, who departed in March 2015, and Douglas Lowy, who will remain in the role of Acting Director until Sharpless begins.
Varmus, a pioneer of oncogenic retroviruses who had previously been NIH Director, oversaw the rollout of several new grant programs and helped launch NCI’s RAS Initiative in 2013. Due to an overall drop in NIH funding over the course of his tenure, the NCI budget decreased by $180 million (3%) from his start in 2010 to 2015.
NCI -- the largest institute by far, commanding about one-fifth of NIH’s annual budget -- had a FY17 program level budget of $5.9 billion, up 19% since Varmus’ departure.
During Lowy’s tenure, NCI played key roles in the rolling out the All of Us Precision Medicine Initiative and the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot.
Sharpless has been director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center since 2014. He also holds seats on the board of the Association of American Cancer Institutes and the National Institute on Aging’s National Advisory Council on Aging.
His work has centered on cellular senescence and cell cycle control, with a focus on the tumor suppressor CDKN2A, and crosses boundaries from cancer to aging. In 2012, his group was one of the first to discover the widespread existence of circular RNA, a type of non-coding transcript that, like microRNA and long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), could have translational implications.
In addition to molecular biology, Sharpless has experience with both translational research and