Head of U.S. National Cancer Institute to step down

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2015 5:37 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute will step down later this month after nearly five years at the helm of the agency that supports basic research on cancer in academia, industry, and its own labs, the National Institutes of Health announced on Wednesday.

Dr. Harold Varmus's resignation will be effective on March 31. Dr. Douglas Lowy, currently the deputy director, will become acting director on April 1.

In a letter to his NCI colleagues, Varmus, who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the cellular origin of certain cancer-causing genes, said he would establish a cancer laboratory at the Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York City and also assist the recently-founded New York Genome Center.

During his tenure, Varmus created NCI's Center for Global Health, launched an initiative to find drugs that target a particular biochemical pathway involved in cancer, and led the cancer component of the Precision Medicine Initiative announced last month by President Barack Obama.

From 1993 to 1999, under President Bill Clinton, Varmus served as NIH director. After leaving NIH and before returning to run NCI in 2010, he served as president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

In his letter, Varmus lamented the recent budget cutbacks NCI has suffered. Citing his previous tenure at NIH, when budgets were rising, he quoted Mae West's line, "I've been rich and I've been poor, and rich is better."

(Reporting by Sharon Begley; editing by Diane Craft)