Biopharma breathes 'sigh of relief' with HHS' interim FDA appointment: analyst

It didn’t take long for the Trump administration to tap Ned Sharpless, now director of the National Cancer Institute, to take the reins at FDA for now—or for biopharma to hail the news. In fact, one team of analysts said the industry would “breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the move on Twitter on Tuesday after FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb stepped down last week.

Sharpless has served as NCI director since October 2017, overseeing the United States' top cancer research organization with an annual budget of nearly $6 billion. Before serving at the institute, he was the University of North Carolina's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center director since January 2014.

In a note titled “Disaster Averted” on Tuesday afternoon, Piper Jaffray analysts wrote they think the biopharma industry will “breathe a collective sigh of relief” on the news.

“In that Dr. Sharpless was clearly Gottlieb’s top choice, and in that he is a long-time insider and physician/scientist, we think investors should expect FDA to continue on its current path of increased regulatory efficiency with an industry-friendly lean,” the analysts wrote.

Ned Sharpless (NCI)

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Sharpless has ties to the drug industry and played a role in founding two biotech companies, the analysts added. He is also a “proponent of streamlining drug discovery approval processes.”

He'll take the reins from Gottlieb, an FDA commissioner popular among the pharmaceutical industry, who served for nearly two years. While running the agency, Gottlieb made lowering drug costs and spurring pharmaceutical innovation two of his top priorities. During his tenure, approval numbers for generics and new brands soared. 

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Gottlieb's quick exit a week ago sparked panic in the biopharma world, as the commissioner had been seen as an ally to the industry, or at minimum a regulator with a deep understanding of biopharma.

In Sharpless, the FDA is getting a "great public health champion" and a "dedicated physician," Gottlieb tweeted on Tuesday. He added that Sharpless will be "warmly welcomed" at the agency.