Welcome new leadership at the National Cancer Institute; Fears of a budget cliff at the NIH

After months of whispers and rumors, finally, it was announced last week that Harold Varmus, MD will become NCI’s new director this summer. It’s the first time a former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) takes over an NIH institute. It’s a good thing. Dr. Varmus understands NIH, and since leaving there, he’s been heading Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He’s a person of vision who’s impatient for progress, a good combination.

I’m serving on the committee To Create a Strategic Scientific Vision for the National Cancer Program and Review of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). I hope we’ll have the opportunity to talk with Dr. Varmus about where he believes NCI should be headed. At the last meeting, we heard from former directors Broder, Klausner and Von Eschenbach as well as current director Niederhuber.

I love the NCI and many of the people there, having spent five years leading the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. The average citizen might be amazed at the quality of the NIH staff — they’re smart, committed and extremely hard-working. New leadership will bring new opportunities. I hope that Dr. Varmus will be as interested in the population sciences as the basic and clinical sciences.

NIH funding at cliff!

It’s especially important that the Varmus appointment was made, because, as Science magazine cautioned last week, the NIH budget is at the edge of a cliff. Jocelyn Kaiser wrote, “Barring a new windfall — and none is in sight — NIH’s budget will drop sharply next year…” The loss of Arlen Specter in the Senate might make things worse, since he has been a strong advocate for the NIH.


  • Check out our commencement photos and feel better in spite of volcanic ash across Europe, a global economic situation that has hit major setbacks and the environmental disaster off Louisiana’s coast. Commencement photos are now available online.
  • Also on a positive note….
    Bill Gentry, director of the Community Preparedness and Disaster Management program and lecturer in Health Policy and Management, was recognized by the government of Moldova on May 3 with its Honorary Rescuer medal to acknowledge Gentry’s history of emergency preparedness and response efforts in the country.

It’s a challenging time; I empathize with all the new grads and others looking for jobs. Happy Monday, Barbara

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