Skip to Content

Brainstorm Health: FDA Acting Commissioner, Alzheimer’s Eye Test, BioNtech IPO

Good afternoon, readers!

Well, that was fast. On Tuesday, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar confirmed that National Cancer Institute (NCI) director Ned Sharpless will become the acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner next month. Just one week ago, the popular current FDA chief, Scott Gottlieb, unexpectedly announced he’ll be stepping down from the position in early April.

Sharpless, a physician and prior director of the University of North Carolinas Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, drew lavish praise from both Azar and Gottlieb following the announcement; biotech stock indices spiked while tobacco company shares took a hit on investor speculation that Sharpless would hew to Gottlieb’s biopharma industry-friendly policy of ramping up drug approvals, as well as his open battle against cigarettes and vaping.

“Dr. Sharpless’ deep scientific background and expertise will make him a strong leader for FDA,” said Azar in a statement. “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.”

“Ned is a friend to FDA, a great public health champion, a dedicated physician, and will be warmly welcomed into his new role. FDA will benefit greatly from his leadership,” added Gottlieb, who reportedly promoted Sharpless for the acting commissioner role (and perhaps even for the permanent position, in a tweet.

The NASAQ Biotechnology Index was up nearly 1% in Tuesday trading—perhaps not surprising given that Sharpless had previously co-founded a pair of biotechs himself and issued this statement shortly after Tuesday’s announcement via Twitter: “With so many new and promising cancer treatments being developed, the need for clinical trials to efficiently and effectively test them has never been greater.”

It’s unclear whether or not Sharpless will eventually be tapped for the permanent position; but he appears to have the requisite amount of establishment, and industry, respect.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


An eye test for Alzheimer’s? In one of those cases that demands the disclaimer that this research is in very early stages, a team of scientists from Duke Eye Center found a possible correlation between Alzheimer’s disease and the density of blood vessels in the retina. “Cognitively normal, healthy individuals do not have these changes in their retina,” said lead study author Dr. Sharon Fekrat in an interview with CBS News, citing a study of more than 200 people that showed 39 participants suffering from Alzheimer’s had distinct retinal changes. (CBS News)


mRNA specialist reportedly plots IPO. Reuters reports that a European biotech focused on so-called mRNA technology may be readying an $800 million Nasdaq public offering this year that could value the company at some $4 billion. The firm, BioNTech, is creating messenger RNA (mRNA) therapies that would theoretically turn human cells into mini-medicine factories that pump out proteins that elicit certain immune responses against disease. Late last year, another mRNA specialist called Moderna Therapeutics raised a historic $600 million IPO at an approximately $7.5 billion valuation. (Reuters)


CDC: 228 measles cases across 12 states. The latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) update on the measles outbreak finds that there have been 228 reported cases across a dozen states, including a new reported case in New Hampshire. To restate how unusual and concerning this outbreak is: Measles was declared to have been eliminated in the U.S. back in 2000. (TIME)


As the World Wide Web Turns 30, Its Inventor Explains 3 Ways It Went Wrong—and How to Fix Itby Kevin Kelleher

40 People, Including Celebrities, Arrested in Massive College Admissions Cheating Scandalby Chris Morris

Why Big Tech Needs More Antitrust Enforcementby Adam Lashinsky

To Get Your Ideas Heard, Change Your Crowdby Ellen McGirt

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
Find past coverage. Sign up for other Fortune newsletters.