Harold Varmus, M.D. 
PHOTO | Courtesy NIH

Varmus Steps Down as Director of NIH’s National Cancer Institute

Harold Varmus, M.D., who has led the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for nearly five years, has announced today that he will step down from his post, effective March 31.

Harold Varmus, M.D.  PHOTO | Courtesy NIH

Harold Varmus, M.D.
PHOTO | Courtesy NIH

“It has been our great fortune to have Harold at the helm of the NCI,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D in a press release. “His breadth and depth of expertise in biomedical research is unparalleled, and he’s been a tremendous colleague to me and invaluable to the agency.”

Dr. Douglas Lowy, who currently serves as the Deputy Director, will become acting director for NCI beginning April 1, 2015, according to an NHI press release. Dr. Lowy, a long-time NCI intramural researcher, received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in 2014 for his research that led to the development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Among Dr. Varmus’ accomplishments during his tenure as NCI director, he instituted the Provocative Questions initiative, created NCI’s new Center for Global Health, revitalized the cooperative clinical trials system, launched an initiative to find drugs that target the cell signaling pathway controlled by the RAS oncogene, led the cancer component of the Precision Medicine Initiative, and contributed many other important ideas to biomedical research, according to the release.

In 1989, Varmus was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes.” From 1993-1999, he served as the director of NIH under President Bill Clinton. After leaving NIH and before returning to run NCI in 2010, Varmus served as president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Before President Barack Obama appointed Varmus to lead NCI, he named him co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, according to the release.

Varmus has had a long-standing association with NIH, dating back to 1968-1970 when, as a young Public Health Service officer, he studied bacterial gene expression with Ira Pastan, M.D., who is currently chief of NCI’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

Among the many honors that Varmus has received over the course of his career are the National Medal of Science, the Vannevar Bush Award, and elections to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1984 and the Institute of Medicine in 1991.

For more information, including Varmus’ letter to NCI staff, please go to http://www.cancer.gov/aboutnci/director/messages/harold-varmus-resignation.


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