Stephen Lagakos, international leader in biostatistics and AIDS research, dies

Stephen Lagakos

For immediate release: October 13, 2009

Boston, MA — Stephen Lagakos, an international leader in biostatistics and AIDS research and professor of biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), died in an auto collision on Monday, October 12, 2009 in Peterborough, N.H. He was 63 years old. His wife, Regina, and his mother, Helen, were also killed in the daytime accident, along with the driver of the other car.

“Our School community is deeply saddened by this unexpected and tragic loss of Professor Steve Lagakos,” said Julio Frenk, HSPH Dean and T & G Angelopoulos Professor of Public Health and International Development. “Having joined our faculty more than three decades ago, Steve was a prominent and respected professor, cherished by those who had the benefit of working with him and learning from him. His seminal contributions to the field of AIDS research helped provide crucial statistical foundations upon which we could better combat this terrible disease. The complexity of the analyses required to understand HIV/AIDS and its treatment presented enormous statistical challenges, which Steve pursued tirelessly.”

Added Harvey Fineberg, former Dean of HSPH and current president of the Institute of Medicine: “Steve Lagakos was a versatile and talented biostatistician, a gifted teacher, and deft administrator. Steve’s leadership in AIDS clinical trials and longitudinal studies helped convert data into action — to prevent HIV transmission, improve treatment, and save lives. At the Institute of Medicine, Steve chaired a technically demanding study on methods to use in biomedical AIDS prevention trials. Steve made complicated problems seem simple, and in this IOM effort, he demonstrated his ability to clarify differences, develop consensus, and express cogent conclusions and policy recommendations. Steve was a successful leader and a delightful personality with a knack for finding something of value in the views of others, much as he could extract value from numerical data in a clinical trial.”

Lagakos joined the HSPH faculty in 1978 as an assistant professor, several years before the emergence of the AIDS epidemic on which he would later focus. He founded the Statistical Data Analysis Center, now part of the Center for Biostatistics in AIDS Research (CBAR), to analyze AIDS information for government and academic research. CBAR has been responsible for the design, monitoring, and analysis of most of the federally funded clinical trials of HIV in the U.S.

Lagakos centered his efforts on several fronts in the fight against AIDS. He designed and analyzed research studies to investigate how and when HIV-infected women transmit the virus to their children — questions that have profound impacts on the type and lengths of treatment. In addition, he developed sophisticated methods to improve the accuracy of estimated HIV incidence rates. He also contributed to broadening access to antiretroviral drugs to people in developing countries.

“Steve educated several generations of biostatistics students, and his many postdoctoral fellows were devoted to him as a kind and compassionate teacher and mentor,” said David Hunter, Dean for Academic Affairs, in an email to the School community. “Steve was always generous with his time — both in statistical matters, and also as a citizen of Harvard, having served with good cheer and much wisdom on many committees and given sage advice to many.”

Lagakos was chair of the HSPH Department of Biostatistics from 1999 to 2006, during which time the department investigated infectious diseases, psychiatric statistics, environmental statistics and statistical genetics. Observed current Chair Victor De Gruttola in an email to HSPH community members: “Steve Lagakos played a central leadership role in our department, in the School, and among the international community of quantitative biomedical researchers. His loss and that of his wife Regina and mother Helen is a terrible one for all of us. Steve’s qualities of commitment, passion, intellectual brilliance, and personal generosity had a direct personal impact on our lives; and his contributions to biostatistics and to AIDS research were fundamental.”

Lagakos had served on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and as a participant in a World Health Organization (WHO) consultation on neuropsychiatric aspects of HIV infection. From 1982 to 1987, he was co-director of WHO’s Collaborating Center for Cancer Biostatistics Evaluation. He worked on several committees and panels of the National Academy of Sciences. He also served as statistical consultant to the New England Journal of Medicine for more than a decade.

He was a member of the Institute of Medicine, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Statistical Association.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in 2006. He received the Spiegelman Gold Medal Award from the American Public Health Association in 1983, and a citation for outstanding teaching from HSPH in the years 1985 to 1988.

Lagakos earned a B.S. from Carnegie Mellon University and a Ph.D. from George Washington University.

A funeral for Lagakos, his wife Regina and mother Helen is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 17, at 1:00 p.m. at the First Congregational Church and Society, 200 Main St., Rindge, NH (603.899.5722).

HSPH convened a gathering today, October 13, to remember Lagakos. The School extends its heartfelt condolences to the surviving members of Lagakos’s family.