October 25, 2021

Head of NIH Steps Down

Head of NIH Steps Down

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Francis S. Collins, MD, Ph.D., has announced he will step down as director at the end of the year. Dr. Collins plans to return to his lab at the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH. He is the longest-serving presidentially appointed NIH director, serving under 3 presidents over more than 12 years. 

“It has been an incredible privilege to lead this great agency for more than a decade,” said Dr. Collins. “I love this agency and its people so deeply that the decision to step down was a difficult one, done in close counsel with my wife, Diane Baker, and my family. I am proud of all we’ve accomplished. I fundamentally believe, however, that no single person should serve in the position too long and that it’s time to bring in a new scientist to lead the NIH into the future. I’m most grateful and proud of the NIH staff and the scientific community, whose extraordinary commitment to lifesaving research delivers hope to the American people and the world every day.”

President Biden released a statement, calling Dr. Collins “one of the most important scientists of our lives.” Dr. Collins was appointed in 2009 by President Obama. Before becoming the NIH director, Dr. Collins served as the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993-2008, where he led the international Human Genome Project. During his tenure, the NIH budget rose from $30 billion in 2009 to $41.3 billion in 2021. 

“While his departure will be a tremendous loss for NIH, he has chosen 24 of the 27 NIH institute directors and has helped create a strong network of researchers all over the country who will continue making progress toward lifesaving medical breakthroughs,” said Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO).

During his time as director, Dr. Collins launched several life-saving initiatives such as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, and the Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) Initiative. He was a vital part of the United States’ COVID-19 pandemic response. He helped launch the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) public-private partnership, the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostic (RADx) program, the Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities, and the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative. 

As the search for the new director begins, Harold E. Varmus, a Nobel prize-winning scientist who was NIH director in the 1990s, stated, “NIH is in pretty good shape, but there are a lot of difficult issues it is going to face over the next year or two. I hope that the White House recognizes that they’ve got a job to fill here.”