National Press Club

Cancer Institute's Varmus discusses research at National Press Club Newsmaker

September 26, 2012 | By Mike Smith | mike@msbdinc.com

Dr. Harold Varmus, Nobel Laureate and director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute

Dr. Harold Varmus, Nobel Laureate and director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Dr. Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute and Nobel Laureate, addressed a National Press Club Newsmaker Sept. 25.

Cancer research budgets have remained flat and legislative preference for specific cancers is a slippery slope, Varmus said. For example, the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act passed by the House of Representatives might redirect funding from the Cancer Institute or earmark it for a specific cancer.

By using genomics the institute is moving closer to cures, Varmus said. He noted, however that specific cancers differ.

Varmus also discussed the recent news that protocols for ovarian cancer may have application in basal-like tumor breast cancer, which is a 10 percent incidence that disproportionately affects young women and minorities.

The National Insitutes of Health has a $31 billion budget and the Cancer Institute has $5 billion, which Varmus said is largely allocated for existing research and development.

“Buying power has fallen 20 percent back to 2001 levels; success rates for grant applicants has fallen to an all time low” at 14 percent from what was once 30 percent funding, he added. Issues that impede progress on cancer are financial, technical, regulatory and cultural, he said.

The Newsmaker was aired on C-SPAN-3 and is available on the web.

Varmus has spent 40 years in cancer research, starting out as a public health officer at NIH, and rising to direct NIH from 1993-96. His current passions include transparency in sourcing and publishing with innovations like the provocative questions discussion groups he’s promulgated and open-source medical research papers.