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WHO seeks new director for cancer agency facing US scrutiny

WHO seeks new director for cancer agency facing US scrutiny
November 8, 2017

LONDON (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) is seeking a new leader for its France-based cancer research agency to replace the current director, Chris Wild, from January 2019.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a semi-autonomous unit of the WHO, is currently under scrutiny by influential members of the United States Congress, who in the past year have launched investigations into the way it conducts its assessments.

Led by Wild since 2009, IARC wields great influence with its classifications of carcinogens. It describes its mission as “to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer control”.

A job advert posted on IARC’s website invited candidates to send applications to the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, by a deadline of mid-February 2018.

It said the new IARC director would be appointed in May 2018 for a five-year term starting Jan. 1, 2019. The candidate may be eligible for one further five-year term, it added.

A spokesman for the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva declined to give details on the timing of or reason for the job posting, but said it “should be a regular turnover”. He referred further questions to IARC, but IARC did not respond to Reuters emails.

Known as Monographs, IARC’s assessments are designed to review scientific evidence and classify whether a substance can cause cancer in people.

They have prompted some controversy, with critics accusing IARC of lacking transparency and being too quick to conclude that substances might cause cancer, sparking unnecessary health scares.

IARC is also at odds with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and U.N. and U.S. regulators over glyphosate, a widely used weedkiller developed by Monsanto. Wild has defended IARC’s work, saying the Monographs are “widely respected for their scientific rigour, standardised and transparent process and ... freedom from conflicts of interest”.