Robert Yarchoan, 1971, P ’07, ’13

Doctor of Science


Robert Yarchoan is chief of the HIV and AIDS Malignancy Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since 2007, he has served as director of the Office of HIV and AIDS Malignancy, which coordinates and prioritizes the HIV/AIDS malignancy research portfolio throughout the NCI. Along with his NCI colleagues,Yarchoan played a major role in developing the first effective therapies for HIV infection, including zidovudine (AZT), didanosine (ddI) and zalcitabine (ddC). In particular, he led the first clinical trials of these drugs, was a co-inventor of ddI and ddC as AIDS therapies and led initial studies of combination anti-HIV therapy.

Raised in Oceanside, N.Y., Yarchoan majored in biophysics at Amherst before heading to the University of Pennsylvania for medical school. After completing an internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of Minnesota, he joined the NCI’s Metabolism Branch, where he completed a fellowship in immunology.

In January 1984, Yarchoan joined the NCI’s recently formed AIDS therapy program, headed by Dr. Samuel Broder. Along with Dr. Hiroaki Mitsuya, the team undertook the herculean task of identifying how to slow or stop the replication of the incipient RNA virus known as HIV. With little information to go on, the trio tested compounds and organized clinical trials, eventually discovering that the drug AZT could increase the CD4 cell count in AIDS patients. Soon after came the discovery that combining AZT with ddI further suppressed the virus. In a matter of years,Yarchoan and his colleagues transformed AIDS from a fatal disease into a chronic but manageable disease.

Yarchoan has received numerous honors, including the Assistant Secretary for Health Award, the U.S. Public Health Service Outstanding Service Medal, the first NIH World AIDS Day Award, and—with Broder, Mitsuya and Dr. Robert C. Gallo—the NCI HIV/AIDS Research Excellence Award. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sci- ence and a member of The American Society for Clinical Investigation. Yarchoan is also the proud and devoted father of Mark Yarchoan ’07 and John Yarchoan ’13.

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Read the transcription of Robert Yarchoan's talk here.