Is Obama Cancer Choice, Harold Varmus, Too Close to Drug Industry?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Harold Varmus

While not openly criticizing the choice, a group of cancer prevention organizations has pointed out some unflattering details about President Barack Obama’s choice to run the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Harold Varmus, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1989, ran the NCI’s parent agency, the National Institutes of Health, during the Clinton administration. During this period, he played a key role in eliminating the “reasonable pricing clause” that prevented pharmaceutical companies from charging “exorbitant” prices for anti-cancer drugs that were developed with the assistance of taxpayer money, according to the Cancer Prevention Coalition.
As an example, the coalition says that the NCI funded the research and development of the anti-cancer drug Taxol, as well as the manufacturing process. It then gave Bristol-Myers Squibb the exclusive rights to market the drug, which it did at 20 times the cost of production.
The coalition also points out that Varmus “gave senior NCI staff free license to consult with the cancer drug industry.”
Varmus, who’s been running the New York Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for the past ten years, downplayed two decades ago the importance of addressing the causes of cancer, preferring instead to focus on treatments for patients.
As head of Sloan-Kettering, Varmus has been ranked as the highest paid executive among 500 major non-profit organizations, earning $2.7 million in compensation.
-David Wallechinsky
Nobelist Is Chosen to Fill Cancer Post (by Robert Pear, New York Times)
Dr. Varmus Goes to Washington (by Robert Cook-Deegan, American Scientist)
Public Handouts Enrich Drug Makers, Scientists (by Alice Dembner, Boston Globe)
Top 25 Compensation Packages (American Institute of Philanthropy)


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