From The Cancer Chronicles #26
In late December, Samuel Broder, MD announced that he was stepping down as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). He will become chief scientific officer, at more than twice his current salary, of a Miami-based chemotherapy company, Ivax, Inc.
Harold Varmus, MD, head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NCI's parent body, announced that he had assembled a search committee for a new director. The committee will be headed by Paul Marks, MD, president of Memorial Sloan - Kettering Cancer Center in New York. This committee will operate at a "lively pace," Varmus promised, and by March is expected to present three to five candidates to the White House. Because of provisions in the National Cancer Act of 1971, the job does not require Senate confirmation.
At the same time, the deputy director and the heads of cancer etiology, cancer therapy, tumor virus biology, cellular and molecular biology, molecular oncology, chemoprevention, and tumor cell biology have either left NCI already or in the process of doing so. According to Science, NCI is being "hollowed out" as top doctors accept large salaries outside the institute. Most of them are going to head up oncology department at academic centers, most of which in turn were built up using NCI funds. It's a small world!
With bone marrow transplantation and other high-tech procedures, billings for cancer patients at these hospitals have become so lucrative that cancer in now recognized as an "important business consideration for university hospitals," said Science (267:24, 1995).
This moment could have presented a wonderful opportunity to alter the losing strategy of the war on cancer. But the choice of Dr. Marks to head the selection committee is not auspicious. In addition to his post at MSKCC, Dr. Marks is a director of Pfizer, Inc., a manufacturer of chemotherapeutic drugs and in one year at MSKCC he took $2.2 million in salary. Neither he nor he institution is a friend of alternative medicine.
The chances are therefore strong that the new candidate will represent business-as-usual for the oncology community, and not the kind of innovative person, open to alternatives, that is desperately needed.
We now see the folly of having this appointment bypass the Senate, which is less likely to be manipulated by the powerful cancer establishment.