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The announcement -- first reported by FOX Business -- comes after current Commissioner Scott Gottlieb abruptly resigned earlier this month. He is expected to leave the agency next month. Gottlieb reportedly recommended Sharpless for the role.
In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Sharpless has "deep scientific background and expertise [that] will make him a strong leader for FDA."
"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," he said.
Sharpless has led the National Institutes of Health's cancer center since 2017. He previously served as the director of the University of North Carolina's cancer institute.
"Dr. Sharpless is a valued colleague to the FDA and is deeply committed to public health," Gottlieb said in a letter to the agency. "The FDA will continue to secure its consumer protection role and advance policies to promote innovation and safety for families."
Sharpless is the second NCI director to be picked to lead the FDA, following former FDA Acting Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach's appointment in 2005.