Today, cancer research is poised to move forward at an unprecedented speed and Harold is ideally qualified to lead the revolution to fight this formidable disease, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

Varmus, whose nomination to the government's agency for medical research has been widely expected, received the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for studies of the genetic basis of cancer and has been president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City since January 2000.

In 1993, then-president Bill Clinton appointed Varmus to become director of the NIH. Varmus left in 1999.

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, who served under Varmus as head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, welcomed him back.

It is exhilarating and gratifying to have my good friend and colleague Harold Varmus back at NIH, Collins said in a statement.

Harold brings unmatched expertise at all levels -- not only in cutting edge scientific research, but also as a leader in the development of strategies for improving patient care, education and training, and in designing novel public-private partnerships.

John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said it was a critical time for the National Cancer Institute. Last September, Obama designated a $1 billion boost for research into the genetics of cancer.

We must sustain this investment to meet President Obama's commitment to double NCI's funding over the next eight years and to ultimately eliminate death and suffering from cancer, Seffrin said in a statement.

With Dr. Varmus as its leader, I am confident that NCI will be in good hands and that we will continue to save more lives and create a world with more birthdays.