Summary

Purnell W. Choppin, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has announced that he will retire at the end of 1999.

Purnell W. Choppin, longtime president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), one of the largest scientific and philanthropic organizations in the world, has announced that he will retire at the end of 1999.

When Choppin came to HHMI in 1985, first as vice president and chief scientific officer and then, since 1987, as president, there were 96 Institute scientists, a number that has grown to 330. These highly talented biomedical researchers have made some of the most important discoveries in basic biology, many of them relating to diseases such as AIDS, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, heart disease, and other disorders. They work in laboratories located at universities, academic medical centers and other research institutions throughout the United States.

During Choppin's tenure, the annual budget of the Institute has grown from $77 million to $556 million, with a total of $4.8 billion either expended or committed. In addition, Choppin oversaw the construction of the Institute's campus headquarters and conference center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.

In a letter informing the Institute's staff of his plans, Choppin noted that at the end of 1999 he will have been with HHMI for 14 years, including 12 as president and chief executive officer. "While my enthusiasm for the position I have been privileged to hold and my dedication to the Institute remain as intense as ever, " he said, "I believe that it will be time for someone else to take up the reins and lead HHMI into the new millennium."

In a separate letter to the HHMI community, Hanna H. Gray, chairman of the Trustees of the Institute, expressed the Trustees' "deep appreciation of Dr. Choppin's exemplary leadership," which, she noted, "has set a very high standard indeed, one that defines the character and the potential of the Institute itself." She said that the Trustees would begin the process this fall of selecting the Institute's next president.

Gray described Choppin's tenure as president as a time of "extraordinary accomplishment," noting that "the Institute has expanded and strengthened its core activity of basic scientific research and has established a far-reaching grants program designed to further excellence in education for scientists from elementary school to the post-doctoral levels." She also pointed out that the "Institute now supports international programs and funds major resource needs for the pursuit of bio-medical science." She said that HHMI's "activities have made a difference not only for medical centers but for colleges, universities, museums, and schools."

Choppin said that he looked forward to his next 15 months as president, which would give the Trustees time to decide upon his successor. He expressed his appreciation for the "staunch support" of the Trustees, and for the efforts of the staff at headquarters and at the Institute's many field locations that "have made the complex HHMI organism operate smoothly and effectively." He particularly drew attention to "the breadth and quality of the research output from HHMI investigators" as being "truly remarkable." Through their "superb science," he said, "they demonstrate what HHMI is all about." He noted that during his tenure that structural biology had been added as a research area and was flourishing.

Choppin came to HHMI in 1985 as vice president and chief scientific officer from The Rockefeller University, where he was Leon Hess Professor of Virology, vice president for academic programs and dean of graduate studies. He headed the laboratory of virology at Rockefeller, which concentrated on viral structure, replication, interaction with cell membranes and the mechanisms by which influenza, parainfluenza and measles viruses produce cell injury and disease.

Choppin is a member of many scientific and professional societies, including the National Academy of Sciences. He has received many honors and awards, including the Howard Taylor Ricketts Award from the University of Chicago in 1978 and the Selman A. Waksman Award for excellence in microbiology from the National Academy of Sciences in 1984. He holds numerous honorary degrees and has served as an advisor to many governmental and private organizations. Choppin received his medical degree from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in 1953. He was an intern at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis before entering the Air Force as a medical officer in 1954. After returning to Barnes Hospital as a resident in internal medicine, he went to The Rockefeller University as a fellow in 1957 and joined the faculty in 1959.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a medical research organization. Established in 1953, it has assets of approximately $11 billion and an annual budget in excess of $550 million. The Institute employs 330 biomedical scientists, who work in Institute laboratories at 72 universities, academic medical centers and other research institutions throughout the United States. In addition, the Institute currently awards more than $90 million each year through its complementary grants program, primarily to support science education in the United States at every level, from elementary school through postdoctoral training. HHMI also awards grants to support the research of outstanding biomedical scientists in selected foreign countries.

For More Information

Jim Keeley 301.215.8858 keeleyj@hhmi.org