Initially a student of English literature and then trained as a physician, I began my scientific career as a member of the Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health in the late 1960’s, working on gene regulation in bacteria with Ira Pastan. Then, during twenty-three years at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco, working in extensive partnership with J. Michael Bishop, our trainees and I studied many aspects of the biology of retroviruses, including the mechanism of viral DNA synthesis and integration, gene expression, viral entry, and oncogenesis in vivo and in vitro.
The cancer-causing potential of retroviruses led to the identification of the first and several other cellular proto-oncogenes, both by tracing viral oncogenes to their cellular progenitors and by identifying cellular genes transcriptionally activated by proviral insertion mutations. These genes and others encoding members of cell signaling pathways have often been found mutated in human tumors and are targets for development of novel and effective therapies. For this work, Mike and I shared a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1989.
I have also taken on significant administrative roles during the past twenty-three years: as Director of the NIH from 1993 to 1999, as President of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center from 2000 to 2010, and as Director of the National Cancer Institute from 2010 until April, 2015, when I became the Lewis Thomas University Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. I am also a Senior Associate Member of the New York Genome Center.
In addition to my research and teaching responsibilities, I take an active interest in the state of the biomedical enterprise, serving as a consultant to academic institutions, foundations, and companies; developing new means to share our findings through enhanced publication processes, including public digital libraries, open access journals, and pre-print servers; and working with several colleagues on projects to repair lesions in the research enterprise (see www.restoringbiomedicalresearch.org). In addition to my papers and scientific books, most of which are fully accessible through PubMed Central, I have written a memoir, The Art and Politics of Science (WW Norton, 2009), which can also be obtained free of charge at PubMed Central.
My spouse, Constance Casey, is a writer, currently focused on biological subjects; my sons, Jacob (a jazz trumpet player and composer) and Christopher (a social worker), also live in New York City. My interests in science and literature are complemented by interests in various forms of exercise, especially cycling and tennis, and in New York’s cultural attractions.