Finding Aid to the Harold E. Varmus Papers, 1967-1993, bulk 1983-1993

Finding Aid written by Jane Bassett, Valerie Wheat, and Josué Hurtado
UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management, Archives and Special Collections
University of California, San Francisco
530 Parnassus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94143-0840
Phone: (415) 476-8112
Fax: (415) 476-4653
© 2006
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Finding Aid to the Harold E. Varmus Papers, 1967-1993, bulk 1983-1993

Collection Number: MSS 93-51

UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management, Archives and Special Collections
Finding Aid Written By:
Jane Bassett, Valerie Wheat, and Josué Hurtado
Date Completed:
January 2007
© 2007 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Collection Summary

Collection Title: Harold E. Varmus papers
Date (inclusive): 1967-1993,
Date (bulk): bulk 1983-1993
Collection Number: MSS 93-51
Creator : Varmus, Harold
Extent: Number of containers: 5 cartons, 3 boxes Linear feet: 7.75
Repository: The UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management, Archives and Special Collections
University of California, San Francisco
530 Parnassus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94143-0840
Phone: (415) 476-8112
Fax: (415) 476-4653
Abstract: This collection documents Dr. Harold Varmus' activities as a UCSF professor, research scientist, and author and editor of international repute. The teaching materials, research files, and journal club entries reflect Dr. Varmus' investigations in the field of oncogenes and retroviruses and the implications for understanding mechanisms of cancer, Hepatitis B, and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The correspondence files illustrate the process of bringing scientific research from experiment to manuscript and then journal article review and publication. They also reflect the increased visibility and demands of a Nobel Prize recipient (in collaboration with J. Michael Bishop of UCSF in 1989).
Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog: .

Information for Researchers


Collection is open for research; some correspondence files are restricted

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to the UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manager of Archives and Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
Copyright restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Harold E. Varmus Papers, MSS 93-51, The UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management, Archives and Special Collections, University of California, San Francisco.

Alternate Forms Available

Digital reproductions of select items from this collection are available on the National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science. 

Related Collections

MSS 84-25 and MSS 88-47

Separated Material


Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Varmus, Harold
Human Retrovirus Study Group
AIDS (Disease)
Nobel prizes
Virologists--California--San Francisco
Virology--Research--California--San Francisco
Cancer cells

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information

Harold E. Varmus Papers were donated to UCSF by Dr. Varmus in 1993.

Processing Information

Processed by Jane Bassett and Valerie Wheat

Biographical Information

Born in Oceanside, New York, December 18, 1939, Harold E. Varmus received his undergraduate degree (B.A. magna cum laude) from Amherst College in 1961, an M.A. (in literature) the following year from Harvard University, and the M.D. from Columbia University in 1966. From 1967 to 1970 Varmus was an intern in medicine (1966-67) and Assistant Resident in Medicine (1967-68) at Presbyterian Hospital, New York, and Clinical Associate at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, Bethesda, MD (1968-70). In 1970 he was appointed a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in the Department of Microbiology at UCSF, for 1970-72. At the end of this period Dr. Varmus was appointed Assistant Professor in Residence, for 1972-74, Associate Professor (1974-79), and full Professor, 1979-1993, in that department. He was on the faculty of the Molecular Medicine group in the Program in Biological Sciences (PIBS) consortium.
In conjunction with J. Michael Bishop, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1989 for their discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes. They also received the Alfred P. Sloan Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation in 1984. Other research colleagues on the faculty at UCSF included Y.W. Kan (hemoglobinopathies), Gordon Tomkins and Keith Yamamoto (glucocorticoid action), and Donald Ganem (hepatitis B viruses). In 1985 Dr. Varmus was selected to give the Annual Faculty Research Lecture at UCSF entitled "Tree-Shaking and Jelly-Making: Growing Up with Retroviruses."
In 1993, he was appointed Director of the National Institutes of Health where he instituted administrative and personnel reforms, changed the peer review system, created the online publications archive E-biomed, and dealt with political issues such as human embryo research. He resigned in 1999 to become Director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and was named President of that institution in 2000. In 2002, Varmus was named a recipient of the 2001 National Medal of Science and recognized at a ceremony at the White House with President George W. Bush.
Varmus is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Society for Microbiology. He was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1984 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1988. Among his honors are the following: Woodrow Wilson Fellow (1961-62); International Fellow of Columbia University (1963-64); Smith, Kline, and French Foreign Fellow (Bareilly, India) in 1961; Senior Dernham Fellow, California Division, American Cancer Society (1970-72); USPHS Research Career Development Awardee, 1972-77; Josiah Macy Scholar (Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London, 1978-79); California scientist of the Year, 1982; Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, 1982; Passano Foundation Award, 1983; Armand Hammer Cancer Prize, 1984; Gairdner Foundation International Award, 1984; and the American College of Physicians Award, 1987. He received an honorary degree from Amherst College in 1985 and the Alumni Gold Medal from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1989.
Dr. Varmus served as associate editor of Cell and Virology (1974-84), and as a member of various working groups and study sections at the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health. From 1981-1986, Varmus chaired the Retrovirus Study Group within the Vertebrate Virus Subcommitee of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. In this role he convened a subcommittee to investigate proposed nomenclature of AIDS-associated viruses in humans. He has co-authored more than 300 scientific papers and four books, including Genes and the Biology of Cancer for a general audience.

System of Arrangement

Arranged to the folder level.

Scope and Content of Collection

This collection documents Dr. Harold Varmus's activities as a professor in the UCSF Department of Microbiology and as head of the Virology Research Group before he moved to Washington, D.C. to become director of the National Institutes of Health. During this time he was a leading scientist in the study of cancer-causing genes called oncogenes. His collaboration with J. Michael Bishop on the Rous Sarcoma Virus led to their receipt of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1989. The lectures, research, and grant proposal files capture a very productive period of research in the molecular biology of retroviruses and illustrate the multiple roles of a research scientist within a university setting.
The collection includes: correspondence, appointment calendars, financial records relating to grants awarded to UCSF by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, departmental budgets from 1980-1988, teaching and research materials. There are also minutes of professional meetings, correspondence and materials from workshops and papers, and documentation of participation in organizations or advisory boards.
The Collection is divided into 6 Series. I. Correspondence; II. Financial Records; III. Lecture Notes; IV. Research; V. Professional Activities; and VI. Appointment Calendars and Directories.

Container List


Series 1 Correspondence 1986-1993

Physical Description: 100 Folders : Carton 1 Folders 1/1-1/50 ; Carton 2 Folders 2/1-2/20; Carton 6 Folders 6/1-6/9 ; Carton 7 Folders 7/1-7/7 Carton 8 Folders 8/1-8/10


Arranged chronologically.

Scope and Content Note

This series contains handwritten and typewritten letters, notes, cards, and facsimiles, arranged chronologically. Most of the letters concern invitations to speak, attend a symposium, or contribute to a publication. Other topics are departmental or inter-university matters, requests to or from other laboratories for clones, and exchanges of opinions on editorial or ethics matters. In these communications, Dr. Varmus is a highly critical reader and writer whose comments are highly valued. Items listed as restricted were transferred from the correspondence files to separate containers.
Carton 1, Folder 1-50

Correspondence 1986-1991

Carton 2, Folder 1-20

Correspondence 1992-1993

Carton 6-8, Folder 1-10


Carton 6, Folder 1-9

Letters of Recommendation (RESTRICTED) 1987-1991

Carton 7, Folder 1-4

Letters of Recommendation (RESTRICTED) 1991-1993

Carton 7, Folder 5-7

Awards Committees (RESTRICTED) 1985-1987

Carton 8, Folder 1-4

Lab Personnel/Student Records (RESTRICTED) 1987-1993

Carton 8, Folder 5

Correspondence (RESTRICTED) 1988-1990

Carton 8, Folder 6-10

Journal Referee Correspondence (RESTRICTED) 1987-1993


Series 2 Financial Records 1974-1993

Physical Description: 32 Folders : Carton 2 Folders 2/21-2/43 ; Carton 3 Folders 3/1-3/9

Scope and Content Note

This series consists of financial records reflecting Varmus' role as a Primary Investigator on various grant funded projects and his role as a member of UCSF's Department of Microbiology.

2.1 Grant proposals and correspondence 1974-1993


Arranged alphabetically by granting agency.

Scope and Content Note

Grant proposals and correspondence, reviewer comments, and progress reports for grant-funded projects with Harold Varmus as Principal Investigator unless noted.
Carton 2, Folder 21-22

American Cancer Society

Carton 2, Folder 21

Biochemical Aspects of Rous Sarcoma Virus 1983-1985

Carton 2, Folder 22

Retroviral Replication and Oncogenes 1985

Carton 2, Folder 23-24

Council for Tobacco Research

Carton 2, Folder 23-24

Functional Analysis of Cellular Oncogenes Activated ring Tumorigenesis 1983-1985

Carton 2, Folder 25-43

National Institutes of Health

Carton 2, Folder 25-30

Development of New Approaches to Inhibit Growth of HIV 1988-1993

Carton 2, Folder 31-33

Molecular Analysis of Retroviruses and Oncogenes 1985-1992

Carton 2, Folder 34-35

Molecular Biology of Mouse Mammary Tumor Virus 1976-1986

Carton 2, Folder 36-37

Oncogenic Potential of the Hepatitis B-Type Virus 1982-1988

Carton 2, Folder 38

Rous Sarcoma Virus: Replication and Cellular Transformation (J. Michael Bishop, Principal Investigator) 1974

Carton 2, Folder 39-42

Structural Biology and Targeted Drug Design for AIDS (George L. Kenyon, Principal Investigator) 1992-1993

Carton 2, Folder 43

Training grant applications for Basic Research in Hematology and Oncology (Yuet W. Kan, Principal Investigator) and The Molecular Analysis of Tumor Viruses (J. Michael Bishop, Principal Investigator)


2.2 Department of Microbiology budgets 1980-1988

Scope and Content Note

Department of Microbiology budgets files (1980-1988) are primarily computer printouts of departmental appropriations, income, and expenditures and accompanying memos and notes. Renovation folder involves planning by Capital Project Management and the department to renovate Virology Research Group space in the Health Sciences East building 4th floor.
Carton 3, Folder 1-8

Departmental budgets 1980-1988

Carton 3, Folder 9

Renovation 1984-1986


Series 3 Lecture Notes 1967-1993

Physical Description: 42 Folders ; Carton 3 Folders 3/10-3/32 ; Carton 4 Folders 4/1-4/18


Organized alphabetically by topic of lectures.

Scope and Content Note

Folders organized alphabetically by topic of lectures given by Harold Varmus at UCSF in the virology and microbiology series and at Stanford University's Program in Cancer Biology. "A Seminar on Genetic Engineering" was offered under Microbiology 100A. One of his contributions was to create and supervise a program of intensive small group instruction in microbiology. Background materials range from 1967 through 1993. As well as lecture notes and syllabi, files contain annotated reprints, articles and letters to the editor from scientific and popular journals, clippings, generic case histories, lists of references and supplementary readings, and course outlines from other professors such as J. Michael Bishop. Visual materials include charts, tables and diagrams; overhead transparencies, and photographs.
Carton 3, Folder 10-11

Adenoviruses 1983-1988

Carton 3, Folder 12-13

Genetic Engineering Seminar 1975

Carton 3, Folder 14

Integration 1975-1981

Carton 3, Folder 15-16

Medical School Teaching - Microbiology 1973-1984

Carton 3, Folder 17

Oncogene Class 1989

Carton 3, Folder 18-21

Papovavirus 1977-1991

Carton 3, Folder 22

Parvoviruses 1986-1988

Carton 3, Folder 23

Retroviruses and Integration 1983-1988

Carton 3, Folder 24-28

Retroviruses 1988-1993

Carton 3, Folder 29-30

Rubella 1973-1976

Carton 3, Folder 31-32

Small DNA Viruses 1990-1993

Carton 4, Folder 1-8

Special Topics - New Ideas about Cancer Causation 1981-1983

Carton 4, Folder 9-10

Transformation 1984-1986

Carton 4, Folder 11-12

Tumor Virus 1972-1977

Carton 4, Folder 13-18

Virology 1967-1993


Series 4 Research 1980-1991

Physical Description: 24 Folders ; Carton 4 Folders 4/19-4/31 ; Carton 5 Folders 5/1-5/12

4.1 Notes 1980-1989


Research material is arranged alphabetically by topic.

Scope and Content Note

Files contain notes from experiments, lab notes on materials and methods, computer-generated and hand drawn cell lines, graphs and photographs and gels from electron microscopes. Other material includes correspondence, scientific papers and reprints, abstracts for poster presentations, and index cards.
Carton 4, Folder 19

Bloom Syndrome 1986

Carton 4, Folder 20

DNAse I Experiments c. 1980

Carton 4, Folder 21

Experiments in Progress 1980

Carton 4, Folder 22

FFF CloneHealth 1980

Carton 4, Folder 23-26

Hepatitis 1982-1988

Carton 4, Folder 27

Linear[S] 1980-1981

Carton 4, Folder 28-30

MLV-MTL Hybrids 1982-1989

Carton 4, Folder 31

Myc c. 1981

Carton 5, Folder 1

Retinoblasta 1979-1982, n.d.

Carton 5, Folder 2

Retinoblasta/Wilms' Tumor 1985-1988

Carton 5, Folder 3-4

Transfections 1983-1984

Carton 5, Folder 5

v-src-7kd 1983


4.2 Journal Clubs 1988-1991

Scope and Content Note

Journal clubs files are made up of notes, index cards, scientific journal articles, overhead transparencies. The Halloween folder notes "Bizarre Events After Introduction of DNA Into Eukaryotic Cells."
Carton 5, Folder 6

Extinction 1983-1991

Carton 5, Folder 7

Halloween c. 1986

Carton 5, Folder 8

Jumping Ribosome n.d.

Carton 5, Folder 9

Polio Research c. 1986

Carton 5, Folder 10

ras 1985-1986

Carton 5, Folder 11

Virus Mobility c. 1987

Carton 5, Folder 12

Yeast mt DNA c. 1985


Series 5 Professional Activitie 1984-1993

Physical Description: 18 Folders : Carton 5 Folders 5/13-5/30

Scope and Content Note

This series contains meeting minutes, notes, papers, and correspondence regarding workshops and meetings attended by Dr. Varmus, including a meeting he organized under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Folder 5/13 of press coverage on use of the term HIV in 1986 and file 5/25 are related to files from a Subcommittee on Taxonomy of AIDS Varmus led from 1984-1986 (see MSS 88-47, carton 2).
Carton 5, Folder 13

AIDS: the press 1986

Carton 5, Folder 14

American Association for the Advancement of Science 1988

Carton 5, Folder 15

Cancer Surveys correspondence 1985-1986

Carton 5, Folder 16

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory: Hepatitis B Viruses meeting 1984-1985

Carton 5, Folder 17-18

Formal lectures undated

Carton 5, Folder 19

General Motors Research Foundation meeting 1984-1985

Carton 5, Folder 20

Mobile DNA 1987-1988

Carton 5, Folder 21

Molecular Basis of Blood Diseases 1991-1993

Carton 5, Folder 22-24

Merck Board of Advisors 1985-1988

Carton 5, Folder 25

Naming the AIDS Virus 1986

Carton 5, Folder 26

"Normal and Oncogenic Functions of the SRC and INT-1 Genes" undated

Carton 5, Folder 27

Trip to Japan 1990

Carton 5, Folder 28

UCSF Faculty Meeting Minutes 1988-1992

Carton 5, Folder 29

UCSF Workshop on Cancer 1987

Carton 5, Folder 30

Workshop on Genes and Development in India 1987-1988


Series 6 Appointment Calendars and Directories 1987-1993

Physical Description: 8 folders : Carton 5 Folders 5/31-5/38

Scope and Content Note

This series includes typewritten schedules of the "week to come." Events include group meetings, seminars, research talks, lectures, grand rounds, student/faculty journal club, informal seminars and discussions, Src breakfasts, Rous lunches, and High Tea.
Carton 5, Folder 31-37

Appointment calendar 1987-1993

Carton 5, Folder 38

Telephone directory lists of personnel, faculty 1986 1988, undated