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NCI Director John Niederhuber, M.D.: Dr. Varmus will lead an institution "second to none"

  • Posted: 05/19/2010

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Over the past five years as NCI director, and in other capacities over many more years, I have greatly enjoyed every opportunity to visit laboratories and offices from Bethesda to Frederick, to meet face-to-face with staff members, and to share my thoughts on important issues about the science and management of this great Institute. It has also been my hope that weekly D-Brief messages have kept you informed about important initiatives, plans, and your wonderful accomplishments. This note carries a particular personal sadness, because it is about impending change.

As you have heard, President Obama has named Dr. Harold Varmus the new director of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Varmus is coming to lead an institution second to none, and he will benefit immeasurably from each of you. NCI is indeed fortunate that Dr. Varmus has agreed to assume this responsibility. Harold and I have known each other for many years, and he will bring not only his scientific expertise but his years of knowledge as NIH director. I am confident this will provide NCI with strong leadership across campus and beyond, and a greatly respected voice on Capitol Hill, advocating for the much-needed resources to sustain the Institute’s mission.

For me personally, it has been the highest privilege to work alongside all of you and to play a role in so many outstanding NCI accomplishments. By virtue of your expert managerial capabilities, despite a series of below-inflation budgets, we found ways to begin some inspiring new initiatives. Because of your hard work, our NCI Community Cancer Centers are devising new strategies to provide access for all patients to state-of-the-art cancer care in their home communities. You made possible our efforts in nanotechnology and proteomics, along with the Cancer Human Biobank initiative, the Innovative Molecular Analysis Technologies Program, and finally, a project I have been excited to see get started: the Physical Sciences-Oncology centers. Many of these trans-NCI programs are attracting extraordinary scientists from theoretical branches of physics, mathematics, and chemistry to cancer research. Your work has also made possible the groundbreaking science of The Cancer Genome Atlas, construction of our Advanced Technology Research Facility in Frederick, expansion of the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid, the integration of NCI’s wide-ranging drug development platform, and the launch of many new careers in science and medicine.

I am immensely gratified by what we have accomplished together – in laboratories, in clinics, in operating suites, and in offices that expertly support our talented cadre of academic researchers, along with every other facet of this vital national organization that so ably leads cancer research in the United States.

When I arrived at NCI in the summer of 2005, I harbored no notion that I would wind up its director. Yet it has been a singular honor to lead you, from what I firmly believe to be the best job in the federal government. I have tried to be mindful of the promises I made to the person I held most dear in my life – to devote each and every day to doing my best to make a difference for cancer patients. Because of you, we are learning more about cancer’s earliest development; about the intricate, dynamic relationship with its host; about the presence and role of cancer cells with stem-cell-like properties; and, as a result, how to confront its growth and its lethal spread. We are treating cancer earlier and more effectively, and each day leads us closer to the development of individualized recipes of novel and highly targeted therapies specific for each patient. Because of you, the promises I made at one bedside are closer to coming true for all. Please know that I will forever be in your debt, and I will cherish the memory of each day here at NCI.

John