Harold E. Varmus

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Harold Varmus
Born Harold Eliot Varmus
(1939-12-18) December 18, 1939 (age 76)
Freeport, New York, US
Fields Cancer Biology
Institutions Weill Cornell Medicine
Alma mater
Known for
Notable awards
Spouse Constance Louise Casey (m. 1969)
Children 2

Harold Eliot Varmus (born December 18, 1939) is an American scientist who has served as the Director of both the National Institutes of Health (NIH; 1993-1999) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI; 2010-2015) and as President of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC;2000-2010). In 1989, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with J. Michael Bishop for discovery of the cellular origin of retrovirus/retroviral oncogenes. He is currently the Lewis Thomas University Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and a Senior Associate at the New York Genome Center.

Background, Early Life, and Education[4][edit]

Varmus is the grandson of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who arrived in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Poland and Austria-Hungary. His mother, Beatrice, was a graduate of Wellesley College and received a degree in psychiatric social work from New York University; his father was raised in Newark, New Jersey, attended Harvard College, and received a medical degree from Tufts. Varmus was born and raised in Freeport, New York, his mother’s hometown, where his father practiced family medicine and served as the Jones Beach State Park physician.

After graduation from Freeport High School in 1957, he enrolled at Amherst College, intending to follow in his father's footsteps as a medical doctor, but he majored in English literature, wrote a thesis about the novels of Charles Dickens (under William Pritchard), and headed the Amherst College newspaper. After receiving his B.A. magna cum laude in 1961, he entered the graduate program in English literature at Harvard University as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. He left with an M.A. degree a year later to return to medical training, entering Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. During his medical studies, his interests shifted from psychiatry to tropical disease to internal medicineand he worked at the Clara Swain missionary hospital in Bareilly, India, during an elective period. After receiving an M.D. degree in 1966, he served as an intern and resident in the Department of Medicine at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

Awards and honors[edit]

Personal life[edit]

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,[8] Boston Museum of Science, and Kennedy Center for the Arts. His brother-in-law is novelist John Casey.


Varmus endorsed then-United States Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) for the 2008 presidential election.[9] 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.[10]

He wrote an article in 2013 praising George W. Bush's initiation and implementation of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.[11][12]


  1. ^ Reardon, Sara (2015). "Harold Varmus to resign as head of US cancer institute". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2015.17063. ISSN 1476-4687. 
  2. ^ Harold Varmus as NCI Director - NIH Internet Archive
  3. ^ a b "Professor Harold Varmus ForMemRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-10-13. 
  4. ^ Varmus, Harold (2009-01-01). The Art and Politics of Science. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393061284. PMID 24696889. 
  5. ^ CSHL Double Helix Medal Honoree
  6. ^ 1989 Prize Lecture in Physiology or Medicine at NobelPrize.org
  7. ^ The Lasker Foundation - 1982 Basic Medical Research Award
  8. ^ Goldberger, Paul. "Swing Science". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  9. ^ Nicholas Thompson: Harold Varmus Endorses Obama February 03, 2008
  10. ^ Membership Roster – Council on Foreign Relations. Cfr.org. Retrieved on 2012-02-17.
  11. ^ Varmus, Harold (December 1, 2013). "Making PEPFAR". Science & Diplomacy 2 (4). 
  12. ^ Harold Varmus (2009). The Art and Politics of Science. W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06128-4. OCLC 227016094. Retrieved 2015-10-24. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Bernadine Healy
Director of the National Institutes of Health
Succeeded by
Elias Zerhouni