David Harrington, PhD Receives 2023 Marvin Zelen Award

Article courtesy of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Department of Biostatistics:

We are pleased to announce Dr. David Harrington, Emeritus Professor of Statistics Professor of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former Chair of the Department of Data Science at DFCI, will be the recipient of the 2023 Marvin Zelen Leadership Award in Statistical Science.

We will host Dave for a lecture on “The special relationship between survival analysis and cancer research — successes and persistent problems.” on Wednesday, April 26th in FXB G11 at 4pm, followed by a reception in the FXB Atrium.

Over the course of his exceptional 45-year career, Dave has served as both a scholar and a leader in the theory and practice of statistics in medical research. In addition to being on the forefront of the development of the new field of biostatistics, he played a crucial role in preparing a new generation of statisticians and physicians, leading the field of medicine towards a more rational use of data. The breadth of his contributions in both research and pedagogy reflect the fundamental vision of Marvin Zelen, making Dave a natural recipient for this prestigious award.

Dave received his PhD in 1976 from the University of Maryland with a focus on statistical theory and methods and spent nearly all of his 45-year career in the development of statistical methods and their application in medical and public health research, as reflected in his extensive CV. He joined the faculty at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in 1984 and worked as a professor of Biostatistics from 1990-2018. He chaired the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology (now the Department of Data Science) of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute from 1998–2009, and the Department of Statistics at Harvard from 2012–2014. While at Harvard he developed and taught a course attended by hundreds of students each year providing a data-driven introduction to biostatistics. He also co-wrote a text on the subject and introduced it online as an open-source resource. During the 11 years he was Chair of the Biostatistical Department at DFCI, Dave led the expansion of membership as well as the scope of research, embracing the new field of computational biology.

Dave’s contributions in academia were paralleled by his outstanding contributions to the field of cancer research. From 2001 to 2014, Dave served as principal investigator of the NCI sponsored Statistical Coordinating Center for the Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance (CanCORS) Consortium, a study of access to and outcomes from cancer care in a cohort of 10,000 patients with colorectal or lung cancer. Dave led nation-wide clinical trial statistical coordinating centers and was instrumental in establishing the DF/HCC Biostatistics research program. He also served on the Scientific Advisory Board for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital for five years and on the standing Data Safety Monitoring Committees for NIAID HIV studies in Sub-Saharan Africa (2001-17, Chair from 2015), as well as cancer trials at Memorial Sloan Kettering for 20 years. From 2000-2008 he served on the US FDA Oncologic Advisory committee with continued service as an Ad hoc member.

The importance of Dave’s contributions is reflected in the many teaching awards and accolades he earned over his career. These included the Nichols Award for Teaching Excellence, the Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize, and the Hoopes Prize for Senior Thesis Mentoring from Harvard, as well as the Herman Callert Leadership Award from Hasselt University, Belgium. Dave is also an elected fellow of the International Statistical Institute, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the American Statistical Association. Throughout his career, he also contributed his expertise to major medical publications, serving as the lead statistical editor for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Marvin Zelen had a vision for the future of the field of Biostatistics, recognizing the importance of faculty and students meaningfully expanding its applications in classroom and hospital settings. Dr. Zelen’s vision was exemplified by his recruitment of David Harrington to join his department nearly four decades ago. Though he followed in Martin’s footsteps, Dave’s pathways were innovative, and his style was thoughtful. His career and accomplishments exceeded Marvin’s high expectations and he stewarded the development of a foundation for the study of Biostatistics at Harvard that continues to be fertile ground for the growth and expansion of the field.

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