AFTER MORE THAN 12 YEARS
Collins To Step Down as NIH Director
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins announced on Oct. 5 that he will step down as head of the agency. He is the longest serving presidentially appointed NIH director, having served 3 U.S. presidents over more than 12 years.
“I write today with truly mixed emotions, including a lump in my throat, to tell you that I have decided to end my tenure as the director of the National Institutes of Health by the end of this year,” he said in an email to staff. “I love this agency, its mission and its people so deeply that the decision to step down has been a difficult one, made in close counsel with my wife, Diane Baker, and my family. 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 NIH into the future.”
Noting in a White House statement that Collins “is one of the most important scientists of our time,” President Joe Biden recalled, “After I was elected president, Dr. Collins was one of the first people I asked to stay in his role with the nation facing one of the worst public health crises in our history…I was grateful he answered the call to serve even though it was asking him to stay on the job longer than anyone in NIH history. Today, I understand his decision to step down from his post at the end of this year after an incredible and consequential tenure.
“Millions of people will never know Dr. Collins saved their lives,” the President said. “Countless researchers will aspire to follow in his footsteps. And I will miss the counsel, expertise and good humor of a brilliant mind and dear friend.”
A physician-geneticist, Collins took office as the 16th NIH director in August 2009, after being appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate. In 2017, he was asked to continue in his role by President Donald Trump, and in 2021, by Biden.
Before leading all of NIH, Collins served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 to 2008, where he led the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. After leaving as NIH director, he will continue to lead his intramural research laboratory at NHGRI.
“Few people could come anywhere close to achieving in a lifetime what Dr. Collins has at the helm of NIH,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “It takes an extraordinary person to tackle the biggest scientific challenges facing our nation—and under 3 presidents, amidst 3 distinctly different chapters of American history. Dr. Collins, master of scientific breakthroughs and scientific reason—from mapping the human genome to fighting the most devastating pandemic of a century—has routinely broken ground to save countless lives, while unleashing innovation to benefit humanity for generations to come.”
Collins said, “It has been my greatest honor to lead this noble agency and to work with such a talented and dedicated workforce. Your extraordinary commitment to lifesaving research delivers hope to the American people and the world every day. That commitment has never been greater or more important than over the past 21 months. I feel remarkably fortunate to have stood at the helm of this great agency when science was called upon to provide rapid solutions to the Covid-19 pandemic. Together, we met that challenge with unprecedented speed, accuracy and safety. Millions of lives will continue to be saved worldwide because of your work. I thank you for your unflagging support during this difficult period and throughout my tenure; it has meant the world to me.”
Collins ended his announcement with appreciation for those closest to him.
“I also want to thank my wife,” he concluded. “I can’t imagine having done this job without her. She is my teammate, my soulmate and the person I’m most excited to spend more time with after I step down. I count my blessings every day for the gift of her presence in my life. I am also deeply indebted to the institute and center directors for their stellar scientific leadership, and to my staff in the Office of the Director for their wisdom, guidance and tireless support.”
A decision on who will serve as acting NIH director is expected to be made by the time Collins steps down.