WASHINGTONNational Cancer Institute director Richard D.
Klausner, MD, was among the names immediately mentioned as Washington
policy wonks and the biomedical community began speculating about who
might replace Harold Varmus, MD, as director of the National
Institutes of Health.
Dr. Varmus resigned the post that he has held for more than 6 years,
effective at the end of 1999, to become president and chief executive
officer of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He will replace
Paul A. Marks, MD, who has headed Sloan-Kettering since 1980 and who
will continue to conduct research there.
The NIH director, who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or
Medicine with J. Michael Bishop, MD, assumed his post in 1993 with a
reputation for brilliant research but little administrative
experience. He went on to make major changes at NIH and to prove
extremely effective in working with Congress, which has provided
substantial funding increases for NIH throughout much of the 1990s.
In his letter of resignation to President Clinton, Dr. Varmus
expressed the hope that the achievements of the past several
years will encourage you and your successors to consider other active
medical scientists to run this extraordinary agency. Implicit in this
suggestion is the hope that you will seek to appoint a new NIH
director, even at this late stage in your second term, in view of the
nonpartisan nature of the position and the need to maintain fully
credentialed leadership at a time of such productive growth at the NIH.
However, the NIH directorship has not always been an apolitical
appointment, and many potential candidates might reject an offer to
lead the agency for less than a year before a new President takes
office. Moreover, the partisan wrangling between the White House and
Congress could delay Senate approval of a new director until after
the 2000 election.
Other Names Mentioned
There is speculation that the President might defer the NIH
appointment to the next president. Alternatively, the President might
choose to select someone within NIH itself who has good relations
with Capitol Hill. Thus, the mention of Dr. Klausner, as well as
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases; Steven Hyman, MD, director of the National
Institute of Mental Health; and Francis Collins, MD, PhD director of
the National Human Genome Research Institute, as potential NIH nominees.
Health and Humans Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala praised Dr.
Varmus as the leader who brought new energy, vision, and
excitement to the worlds greatest scientific institution.
Her office announced the Secretary would appoint a committee to
assess potential candidates for the NIH post. Upon Dr. Varmus
departure, deputy NIH director Ruth Kirschtein, MD, will serve as