NCI Director Resigns to Head New Scientific Institute

October 1, 2001

BETHESDA, Maryland-Richard D. Klausner, MD, has resigned as director of the National Cancer Institute to become president of a new scientific organization, the Case Institute for Health, Science and Technology. In a letter to President George W. Bush, Dr. Klausner called his 6-year tenure "the most challenging and rewarding of my career. The NCI is a jewel that I have had the honor to lead."

BETHESDA, Maryland—Richard D. Klausner, MD, has resigned as director of the National Cancer Institute to become president of a new scientific organization, the Case Institute for Health, Science and Technology. In a letter to President George W. Bush, Dr. Klausner called his 6-year tenure "the most challenging and rewarding of my career. The NCI is a jewel that I have had the honor to lead."

Planned Initiatives of the Case Institute for Health, Science and Technology

Programs aimed at linking biology, nano- and microtechnology, chemistry, and information sciences to transform how the nation monitors and affects health, disease, and the environment.

Projects to develop tools and standards to better utilize and communicate scientific and biologic knowledge.

Partnerships to bring new technologies to clinical research to accelerate the rapid testing of molecularly targeted approaches for diseases.

Public health initiatives to encourage development of new technologies and create demonstration projects to apply these technologies to worldwide public health needs for disease control, sanitation, and access to health information.

Web-based projects to develop open source approaches to improve science and technology education and public awareness, and projects to overcome the "digital divide," nationally and internationally.

Steve and Jean Case established the Case Institute as part of their nonprofit Case Foundation. Steve Case is a founder of America Online (AOL) and is now chairman of AOL Time Warner. The new Case Institute will be located in Washington, DC.

Dr. Klausner, who continued a small research effort throughout his NCI directorship, will continue to head his laboratory at NCI as an unpaid NIH "special volunteer."

In a statement, Mr. Case said that the purpose of the new institute "is to pioneer new ground in a space where science, medicine, and technology need to converge in an unprecedented way. As many in these fields recognize, there is a compelling need to establish new platforms to share information and address challenges in a more collective way."

The Klausner era at NCI was marked by significant changes in management structure and research direction. He was a strong advocate for biomedical research, a pragmatic visionary capable of capturing an audience—whether layman or professional—with his articulate road map to how science will subdue cancer, and an effective voice on Capital Hill where Dr. Klausner enjoyed good relations with members of both political parties.

"He has been a strong spokesman for the war on cancer, justified doubling of the budget at NCI, and used the funds to expand research across the spectrum of clinical, epidemiological, and basic sciences," said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, professor of biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and chair of the National Cancer Advisory Board. "The NCI leadership under Rick has led the community to embrace new technologies and science that have already produced a new generation of highly effective cancer drugs with the promise of many more in the future."

Under Dr. Klausner’s direction, the NCI reduced the percentage of research funds allocated to intramural research and sharpened the focus of its inhouse research. However, the increasing money that resulted from the 5-year effort to double the NIH budget provided both intramural and extramural NCI researchers with additional funds.

In addition to the traditional lines of investigation supported by the NCI, Dr. Klausner emphasized the importance of understanding the genetics of cancer and the biologic differences of tumors loosely lumped under the same name, such as breast or lung cancer. Thus, he broke new ground with programs to discover and exploit these genetic differences to diagnose and classify tumors, and to develop targeted therapies that would reduce adverse side effects and effect cures.

He also instituted major improvements in information technology, bioinformatics, and communication among scientists and with patients and advocacy groups, and his influence reached well beyond NCI.

"Rick has made enormous contributions to the NIH," said Ruth L. Kirsch-stein, MD, acting NIH director. "Over the years, he has been a trusted advisor to a number of NIH directors and always brought a ‘big picture’ view to medical research. His departure is a loss to NIH."

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson said that as NCI director, "Rick summoned a unique blend of scientific and administrative talents to guide basic and clinical cancer research to new heights." Mr. Thompson indicated that an acting director for NCI will be named soon.