You can expect some changes at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), considered the world's pre-eminent cancer research organization, following this week’s appointment of Dr. Harold E. Varmus as the new director.
Now president of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Varmus is a Nobel Prize-winning biologist and former director of the National Institutes of Health. The cancer institute has a budget of $5.1 billion this year.
The federal cancer program has been subject to much criticism and Varmus is expected to bring significant change. The National Academy of Sciences said in a recent report that the NCI – which evaluates the clinical effectiveness of cancer treatments – was nearing “a state of crisis.” A key concern is that the program is falling short of its potential to conduct the timely, large-scale, innovative clinical trials needed to improve patient care.
The report recommends NCI maintain a robust cancer clinical trials network by preserving historical strengths while improving components that aren’t working well with four overarching goals:
• Improving the speed and efficiency of the design, launch, and conduct of clinical trials
• Making optimal use of scientific innovations
• Improving selection, prioritization, support, and completion of clinical trials
• Fostering expanded participation of both patients and physicians
Ellen V. Sigal, chairwoman of Friends of Cancer Research, a public education group, told the New York Times, “Dr. Varmus’s experience at Memorial Sloan-Kettering has given him a perspective he did not get running a laboratory or N.I.H. He appreciates how important it is to use basic research to meet the needs of patients.”
Dr. Otis W. Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said he was “thrilled and delighted” by the selection of Varmus.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure applauded the selection. “Dr. Varmus is uniquely experienced to bring people and institutions together to accomplish significant change,” said Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO.