Former NIH chief tapped to lead NCI

Physician-researcher Harold Varmus, MD, a Nobel Prize winner and Clinton administration official, has been selected to lead the cancer research center.

By Chris Silva — Posted June 4, 2010

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The White House has announced President Obama's intention to appoint Harold Varmus, MD, as director of the National Cancer Institute.

The selection of Dr. Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health and a Nobel Prize winner for his cancer research, was cheered by the cancer care community. The position does not require Senate approval, and the announcement was made on May 17.

"Dr. Varmus' scientific leadership and experience would be an enormous asset for our national cancer research program," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. "His background ... would give him a rich and unique perspective as the government's top official in charge of discovering scientific breakthroughs in the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer."

Dr. Varmus has served as president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York since January 2000. There, he has worked to integrate clinical care and laboratory activities, expand faculty and facilities, lead a $2 billion capital improvement campaign, and start a new graduate school in cancer biology.

Dr. Varmus' research career began as a member of the U.S. Public Health Service at NIH and as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1993, President Clinton nominated him to become the director of NIH, where Dr. Varmus guided construction on a new clinical center, strengthened the intramural research program and helped initiate a doubling of the NIH budget.

Dr. Varmus was also co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for studies on the genetic basis of cancer.

"Harold brings unmatched expertise at all levels -- not only in cutting-edge scientific research, but also as a leader in the development of strategies for improving patient care, education and training, and in designing novel public-private partnerships," said NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD. "I look forward to working together with him as we move forward on the development of new and powerful approaches to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer."

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