National Cancer Institute chief to serve as acting U.S. FDA head

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University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill photo of Dr. Norman Sharpless

Dr. Norman Sharpless is seen in this undated photo made available by University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S., on March 12, 2019. Courtesy University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has tapped National Cancer Institute Director Norman Sharpless to serve as acting commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, followingthe resignation Scott Gottlieb earlier this month. Sharpless, who has led the National Institutes of Health's cancer unit since 2017, will take over following Gottlieb's exit, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday.

Gottlieb abruptly resigned earlier this month, raising questions about how the agency would regulate e-cigarettes and tackle drug competition following his tenure, which was generally lauded by public health advocates as well as both Republicans and Democrats.

Anti-regulation groups and some industry groups, however, raised objections to his efforts, which ran counter to the administration's goal of easing government regulations.

Shares of Altria Group and British American Tobacco PLC both edged lower amid a jump in trading volume on news of the Sharpless appointment. Altria, which makes Marlboro cigarettes and recently acquired a stake in e-cigarette startup Juul, fell 1 percent, while British American’s American depositary receipts were down by 0.25 percent. Both had climbed ahead of the announcement.

Gottlieb has said he will step down in April.

HHS, in a tweet announcing Sharpless' appointment on Tuesday, cited Gottlieb's "incredibly successful tenure."

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann; additional reporting by Dan Burns; Editing by Lisa Lambert and Bernadette Baum)