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National Cancer Institute Director Ned Sharpless named acting FDA commissioner

National Cancer Institute Director Ned Sharpless will serve as acting FDA Commissioner when Scott Gottlieb leaves the agency next month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday.

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The administration is currently searching for a permanent replacement, Azar told the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee Hearing. Gottlieb announced his resignation last week. He supported Sharpless’ appointment to the role, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

“It will be an honor to advance the FDA’s critical public health mission and build on its progress toward the priorities laid out by President Trump, Secretary Azar, and Commissioner Gottlieb alongside the leadership and staff of the agency,” Sharpless said in a statement.

During his nearly two-year tenure, Gottlieb spearheaded several new policies at the FDA. He advanced a plan to lower nicotine in combustible cigarettes to non-addictive levels and to ban menthol cigarettes. He also focused on increasing prescription drug competition, through generic drugs and so-called biosimilars, as a way to lower prices.

Gottlieb’s resignation took Washington and the health-care community by surprise. Some wondered what would happen to some of the initiatives he led, such as a crackdown on teen vaping. Shares of Marlboro cigarette maker Altria retreated after Azar announced Sharpless’ appointment.

“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,” Azar said in a statement.

In an email to FDA staff, Gottlieb said Sharpless is a “valued colleague to the FDA and is deeply committed to public health.”

“Dr. Sharpless shares our mission and I know he will be embraced warmly by the Agency’s professional staff,” Gottlieb said.

Sharpless took over as director of the National Cancer Institute on Oct. 17, 2017. He previously led the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Deputy Director Dr. Douglas Lowy will serve as acting director of the National Cancer Institute, HHS said.