Polymath Scientist Varmus Leaving Memorial Sloan-Kettering

Staff Writer

Harold Varmus—Nobel Prize winner, former NIH director, and Daily Show guest—is stepping down after a decade at the helm of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Varmus e-mailed the news to Sloan-Kettering employees this morning and said he plans to stick around until a successor is named. He will also continue running his lab, where he studies oncogenes. According to his statement, Varmus said he always planned to lead Sloan-Kettering for roughly 10 years. The decade is up, and, he said in his message, “the institution would now benefit from a fresh approach.”

Few scientists have as high a profile as Varmus, who came to the cancer center fresh from heading up NIH.

While at Sloan-Kettering, he oversaw both expansion and contraction. Like many other research centers, Sloan-Kettering constructed new research facilities and a graduate school. The cancer center’s endowment also fell with the stock market plunge, although according to a statement from Sloan-Kettering, Varmus oversaw a fund-raising effort that recently topped $2 billion.

Varmus’s stock rose further during the 2008 presidential race. A backer of now-President Barack Obama, he advised the candidate on scientific issues. In January, Obama picked Varmus to co-chair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He also recently published The Art and Politics of Science, a memoir that urges stronger links between science and the political realm.