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National Medal of Science Awarded to Dr. Harold Varmus

May 10, 2002

New York – Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Director Harold Varmus has been named a recipient of a 2001 National Medal of Science. The honor recognizes Dr. Varmus's service as Director of the National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 1999 and his significant scientific accomplishments.

Harold Varmus receives National Medal of Science from President Bush.

Harold Varmus receives National Medal of Science from President Bush.

A leading contributor to cancer research for more than thirty years, he received the 1989 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology with J. Michael Bishop, now Chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, for their discovery that normal human and animal cells contain genes capable of becoming cancer genes. This revolutionary discovery led to an aggressive and successful search for the genetic origins of cancer by the scientific community.

President George W. Bush will award National Medals of Science to Dr. Varmus and 14 others at a White House ceremony on June 13.

Established by the 86th Congress in 1959 as a Presidential Award, the National Medal of Science is the nation's highest science honor, bestowed on individuals "deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences."

Dr. Varmus became President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in January, 2000, after serving as Director of the National Institutes of Health for six years. During his highly praised performance at the NIH, Dr. Varmus reinvigorated the nation's biomedical research enterprise, initiated many changes in the conduct of intramural and extramural research programs, recruited outstanding new leaders for many of the Institutes, and helped to increase the agency's annual budget from under $11 billion to nearly $18 billion.

Since his arrival at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Varmus has strengthened all areas of the Center's three-pronged approach to the control of cancer, through patient care, research, and education. Under his leadership, MSKCC has undertaken a major expansion of its clinical infrastructure, adding space for programs in surgery, pathology, and pediatrics. He has also enhanced the Center's faculty and recently recruited the prominent physician-scientists Robert E. Wittes as Physician-in-Chief of Memorial Hospital and Thomas J. Kelly as Director of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. Dr. Varmus also led a successful effort to obtain rezoning of the Center's Upper East Side campus, setting the stage for the construction of a new 23-story research facility, MSKCC's first new laboratory building in more than a decade.

"We are proud and delighted that Harold Varmus has been recognized as one of this country's most distinguished scientists and a leader of the nation's medical research enterprise," said Douglas A. Warner III, Chairman, Boards of Overseers and Managers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "It is an honor richly deserved."

Dr. Varmus has co-authored more than 300 scientific papers and four books, including an introduction to the genetic basis of cancer, Genes and the Biology of Cancer, for a general audience.

Harold Varmus was born in 1939. He received his BA from Amherst College, his MA from Harvard University, and his MD from Columbia University. He is married to Constance Casey and they have two sons, Jacob and Christopher.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is the world's oldest and largest institution devoted to prevention, patient care, research and education in cancer. Our scientists and clinicians generate innovative approaches to better understand, diagnose and treat cancer. Our specialists are leaders in biomedical research and in translating the latest research to advance the standard of cancer care worldwide.

Press release, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center