By: Adrienne J. Burke | posted May 18, 2010
President Obama announced this week that he will appoint Harold Varmus to direct the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Varmus, 70, appears on the cover of the current edition of the New York Academy of Sciences Magazine, and is a member of the Academy's President's Council.
He is a former Director of the National Institutes of Health, co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for studies of the genetic basis of cancer, and co-chair of President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Since January 2000, Dr. Varmus has served as the President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
The Washington Post reported that, while it is an unusual move for a former head of the entire National Institutes of Health to return to run one of its member institutes, "the move offers Varmus the chance to have maximal impact on the field of cancer research at a unique moment in its history." Dr. Varmus will assume his post in mid-July, the Post reported.
Dr. Varmus's research career began as a member of the U.S. Public Health Service at the NIH and as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco. He then served as a member of the UCSF medical faculty for more than 20 years, conducting scientific work on cancer genes and retroviruses. In 1993, President Clinton appointed Dr. Varmus to become Director of the NIH, where he guided construction of a new clinical center, strengthened the intramural research program, recruited outstanding leaders, and helped to initiate a doubling of the NIH budget.
At MSKCC, Dr. Varmus has united clinical care and laboratory activities, expanded faculty and facilities, developed inter-institutional research programs, led a two billion dollar capital campaign, and started a new graduate school in cancer biology. He recently co-chaired an Institute of Medicine report on The U.S. Commitment to Global Health; is a co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Public Library of Science, a publisher of open access journals; and chairs the Global Health Advisory Committee at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1984 and of the Institute of Medicine since 1991, and he has received the National Medal of Science and the Vannevar Bush Award. Varmus majored in English Literature at Amherst College, earned a master's degree in English at Harvard University, received his medical degree from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and was trained in internal medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.