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Harold E. Varmus

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Title: Harold E. Varmus  
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Subject: List of Nobel laureates by university affiliation, List of Amherst College people, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, PLOS, Directors of the National Institutes of Health
Collection: 1939 Births, American Nobel Laureates, Amherst College Alumni, Columbia University Alumni, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Alumni, Council on Foreign Relations, Directors of the National Institutes of Health, Foreign Members of the Royal Society, Harvard University Alumni, Jewish American Scientists, Living People, Members of the European Molecular Biology Organization, Members of the United States National Academy of Sciences, National Medal of Science Laureates, Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, People from Freeport, New York, People from Oceanside, New York, Recipients of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, Vannevar Bush Award Recipients
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Harold E. Varmus

Harold Varmus
Born Harold Eliot Varmus
(1939-12-18) December 18, 1939
Oceanside, New York, U.S.
Fields Cell biology
Alma mater
Known for
Notable awards
Spouse Constance Louise Casey (m. 1969)
Children 2

Harold Eliot Varmus (born December 18, 1939) is an American Nobel Prize-winning scientist and the 14th Director of the National Cancer Institute, a post to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama.[4] He was a co-recipient (along with J. Michael Bishop) of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes. He also serves as one of three co-Chairs of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.


  • Biography 1
  • Awards and Honors 2
  • Personal life 3
    • Politics 3.1
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Varmus was born to Beatrice, a social service worker, and Frank Varmus, a physician, Jewish parents of Eastern European descent, in Oceanside, New York.[5][6] In 1957, he graduated from Freeport High School in Freeport, NY and enrolled at Amherst College, intending to follow in his father's footsteps as a medical doctor, but eventually graduating with a B.A. in English literature.[5] He went on to earn a graduate degree in English at Harvard University in 1962 before changing his mind once again and applying to medical schools.[7] He was twice rejected from Harvard Medical School. That same year, he entered the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and later worked at a missionary hospital in Bareilly, India and the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital.[5] As an alternative to serving militarily in the Vietnam War, Varmus joined the Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health in 1968.[7] Working under Ira Pastan, he researched the regulation of bacterial gene expression by cyclic AMP. In 1970, he began postdoctoral research in Bishop's lab at University of California, San Francisco.[5] There, he and Bishop performed the oncogene research that would win them the Nobel Prize. He became a faculty member at UCSF in 1972 and a professor in 1979.[5] In 1989, Bishop and Varmus were awarded the Nobel Prize.[8] Varmus described the work in his Nobel lecture.[9]

From 1993 to 1999, he served as Director of the National Institutes of Health. As the NIH director, Varmus was credited with nearly doubling the research agency's budget.[7] From 2000 to 2010, he was President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He received $2,557,403 salary/compensation from the charity, which is the most money given by any charity to the head of that charity, according to Charity Watch.[10] He was also the Chairman of the Geoffrey Beene Cancer Research Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. From 2002 to 2005, he served as a trustee of Columbia University.

On January 12, 2010, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced that Varmus "has asked the MSKCC Boards of Overseers and Managers to begin a search for his successor." The announcement also stated, "Varmus indicated that he plans to continue in his present position until a successor has been identified, and he will remain the head of his laboratory in the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program at the Sloan-Kettering Institute and an active member of the teaching faculty."

On May 18, 2010, Varmus was nominated to be the director of the National Cancer Institute,[11] and he began his tenure as NCI director on July 12, 2010.[12]

Beginning during his tenure as NIH director, Varmus has been a champion of an Scientists and Engineers for America, an organization focused on promoting sound science in American government.

He is also a 2001 recipient of the National Medal of Science, served on the board of the Science Initiative Group and received an honorary degree in 2010 from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.[13]

On March 4, 2015, Varmus submitted his resignation, effective March 31, 2015, to the President with his intention to return to New York City as the Lewis Thomas University Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and the New York Genome Center.[14][15] Deputy NCI Director Douglas Lowy will become Acting Director of the NCI.

Awards and Honors

Personal life

Varmus is an avid bicyclist and an Advisory Committee member of Transportation Alternatives the New York City-based advocacy group for pedestrians and cyclists. He is also a runner, rower, and fisherman. He has been married to Constance Louise Casey since 1969, and has two sons, Jacob and Christopher. Varmus and his son Jacob Varmus, a jazz trumpeter and composer, have performed a series of concerts entitled "Genes and Jazz: The Music of Cell Biology" at the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian,[19] Boston Museum of Science, and Kennedy Center for the Arts. His brother-in-law is novelist John Casey. Varmus is a vegan.[20]


Varmus endorsed then-United States Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) for the 2008 presidential election.[21] He has been selected as one of co-chairs of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to serve in the Obama administration. He is member of the Council on Foreign Relations.[22]

He wrote an article in 2013 praising President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.[23][24]


  1. ^ Reardon, Sara (2015). "Harold Varmus to resign as head of US cancer institute". Nature.  
  2. ^ Harold Varmus as NCI Director - NIH Internet Archive
  3. ^ a b "Professor Harold Varmus ForMemRS". London:  
  4. ^ President Obama to Appoint Harold E. Varmus, M.D., to Lead National Cancer Institute,
  5. ^ a b c d e Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1989, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, 1990.
  6. ^ Biography - National Cancer Institute. Retrieved on 2013-11-24.
  7. ^ a b c d e Jamie Shreeve. "Free Radical". Wired Magazine. June 2006. Issue 14.06.
  8. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1989". Official Nobel Prize Award Site. 
  9. ^ RETROVIRUSES AND ONCOGENES I. Nobel Lecture, December 8, 1989.
  10. ^ Charity Rating Guide and Watchdog Report, Volume Number 59, December 2011
  11. ^ "President Obama to Appoint Harold Varmus, M.D.". National Cancer Institute. Archived from the original on 2010-05-27. 
  12. ^ "Harold Varmus, M.D.". National Cancer Institute. Archived from the original on 2014-01-04. 
  13. ^ UMMS Commencement 2010 – UMass Worcester Class of 2010 Sloan-Kettering president urges UMass Worcester graduates to ‘appreciate the process of flux’. (2008-01-24). Retrieved on 2012-02-17.
  14. ^ Dr. Harold Varmus to Step Down as NCI Director A Letter to the NCI Community
  15. ^ "Cornell Chronicle March 5, 2015 on Nobel laureate Harold Varmus to join Weill Cornell". 
  16. ^ CSHL Double Helix Medal Honoree
  17. ^ 1989 Prize Lecture in Physiology or Medicine at
  18. ^ The Lasker Foundation - 1982 Basic Medical Research Award
  19. ^ Goldberger, Paul. "Swing Science". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  20. ^ Silicon Valley's Race to Build a Fake-Meat Burger - Grub Street
  21. ^ Nicholas Thompson: Harold Varmus Endorses Obama February 03, 2008
  22. ^ Membership Roster – Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved on 2012-02-17.
  23. ^ Varmus, Harold (December 2013). "Making PEPFAR". Science & Diplomacy 2 (4). 
  24. ^ Harold Varmus (2009). The Art and Politics of Science. W. W. Norton.  

External links

  • The Harold Varmus Papers – Profiles in Science, National Library of Medicine
  • Harold Varmus's short talk: "How I Became a Scientist"
  • President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
    • President-elect Obama introduces Dr. Varmus as Co-Chair of PCAST on YouTube
  • Board member profile at the Public Library of Science
  • Harold Varmus's short talk: "Changing the Way We Publish"
  • A film clip "The Open Mind - A Man For All Seasons, Part I (2004)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  • A film clip "The Open Mind - A Man For All Seasons, Part II (2004)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Harold E. Varmus at the Internet Movie Database
  • Works by or about Harold E. Varmus in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Archives:
    • Personal Papers of Harold Varmus I – UCSF Archives & Special Collections
    • Personal Papers of Harold Varmus II – UCSF Archives & Special Collections
    • Personal Papers of Harold Varmus III – UCSF Archives & Special Collections
  • Access Excellence Biography
  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Biography
  • Audio: Harold Varmus in conversation on the BBC World Service discussion show The Forum
  • Review: Michael A. Rogawski. "The Art and Politics of Science (book review)" Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 52.1 (2009): 637–642.
Political offices
Preceded by
Bernadine Healy
Director of the National Institutes of Health
Succeeded by
Elias Zerhouni
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