Harold Elliot Varmus (born December 18, 1939) is an American Nobel prize winning scientist. He was a co-recipient (along with J. Michael Bishop) of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes.
He has been designated as one of co-chairs of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to serve in the Obama administration.
Varmus was born to Jewish parents of Eastern European descent in Oceanside, New York. In 1957, he enrolled at Amherst College, intending to follow in his father's footsteps as a medical doctor, but eventually graduating with a B.A. in English literature. He went on to earn a graduate degree in English at Harvard University in 1962 before changing his mind once again and applying to medical schools. That same year, he entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and later worked at a missionary hospital in Bareilly, India and the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. Seeking to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War, Varmus joined the Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health in 1968. Working under Ira Pastan, he researched regulation bacterial gene expression by cyclic AMP. In 1970, he began post-doctoral studies in Bishop's lab at University of California, San Francisco. There, he and Bishop performed the oncogene research that would win them the Nobel Prize. He became a faculty member at UCSF in 1972 and a professor in 1979.