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Fellows Directory

Harold Varmus

Harold Varmus

Professor Harold Varmus ForMemRS

Foreign Member

Elected: 2005


Harold Varmus is best known for his studies into the genetics of cancer. Harold discovered that under certain circumstances, the activation of genes known as oncogenes — which usually control the normal growth and division of healthy cells — can lead to cancer. This finding enabled the development of mouse models of human cancers and permitted the in-depth study of the function of genes implicated in cancer.

Harold exploited RNA viruses known as retroviruses during his investigation of oncogenes. Thus, he is also renowned for his studies of the behaviour of these viruses, ranging from the nature and origin of their transformative genes to their potential to cause genetic changes.

He was nominated by US President Obama as Director of the National Cancer Institute, and began his tenure in July 2010. He also serves as one of three co-Chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. In 1989, he was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for his work on the origins of cancer.


  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

    Jointly with J. Michael Bishop for their discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes.

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