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Vol. LXII, No. 1
January 8, 2010
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A Busy To-Do List
Collins Convenes First ACD Meeting as Director

On the front page...

Host the President. Account for unprecedented stimulus windfall. Meet reps from dozens of constituency groups. Announce new stem cell lines. Plan to avoid fall from future fiscal cliff. These were just a few items on the to-do list of NIH director Dr. Francis Collins in the first 4 months of his new job. At the Dec. 4 meeting of the advisory committee to the director, he described life in the top chair at NIH.

“This has been a pretty wild ride, this first 115 days. Trying to figure out the right metaphor is sort of like this,” Collins joked, showing a slide of a boy attempting to sip from a rush of water. “I don’t think it quite does justice, though, because it really feels like drinking from a fire hose while riding a rollercoaster. There are so many things coming at you every day, but the staff here is phenomenal and the science is truly exciting.”

Continued...


  Dr. Francis Collins holds his first ACD meeting as NIH director.  
  Dr. Francis Collins holds his first ACD meeting as NIH director.  

Searches Under Way

In opening remarks, Collins noted that he had recently announced his first IC director appointment: Dr. Eric Green now leads NHGRI, the institute Collins himself vacated in August 2008 after 15 years. He also mentioned that searches were under way for several other top NIH leadership posts: permanent directors for NHLBI and NICHD (two pediatricians, Dr. Susan Shurin and Dr. Alan Guttmacher, respectively, were named temporary directors of those ICs); and the NIH deputy director for extramural research.

The director added a new position to his immediate staff, a chief of staff. Dr. Kathy Hudson, a former associate director at NHGRI under Collins, recently left Johns Hopkins’ Genetics and Public Policy Center to take on the new post.

“The issues that surround NIH are sufficiently complex with many issues relating to our outside relationships that we need that kind of senior expertise by someone who knows both science and policy,” Collins explained.

Also within the Office of the Director, other senior leadership positions need filling. Directors are needed for the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research; the Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis; and the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives.

Collins noted roster changes for the ACD as well: The 3-year terms of five members expired at the end of the Dec. 4 meeting: Drs. Catherine DeAngelis, Karen Holbrook, Mary-Claire King, John Nelson and Barbara Wolfe.

At the start of the meeting, Collins also bid a public farewell to a longtime leader in Bldg. 1, Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, “a dear colleague and one of the true giants of NIH,” who died Oct. 6 after serving NIH in various capacities for more than 50 years. He led a moment of silence in her honor.

Director’s Vision

Collins offered an abbreviated slide show version of his vision for NIH, “Exceptional Opportunities for Biomedical Research.” Priorities include high-throughput technologies that open unexplored scientific pathways, translation of basic research into new and better treatments, “putting science to work for the benefit of health care reform,” emphasizing the nation’s “soft power” with a greater focus on global health and reinvigorating the medical research community.
NIH deputy director Dr. Raynard Kington (l) and Collins chat shortly before the ACD meeting gets under way.
NIH deputy director Dr. Raynard Kington (l) and Collins chat shortly before the ACD meeting gets under way.

He praised the ACD for its history of providing valuable perspective, advice and feedback to the NIH director. He said he looked forward to continuing the tradition, particularly given the unique challenges and opportunities facing the agency at this time in history.

One big challenge will be finances, Collins acknowledged. He asked NIH Associate Director for Budget John Bartrum, who was serving in his last day in that post before starting a new job with Congress, to give an update on fiscal year 2010 and prospects for 2011.

At the time of the ACD meeting, NIH was operating under a Continuing Resolution due to expire on Dec. 18. In consideration on Capitol Hill was the 2010 budget request of $30.9 billion. The House version tacks on an additional $500,000; the Senate version matches NIH’s request exactly. Bartrum estimated that the final version will be some amount between the two figures. The 2011 budget request is due to roll out on the first Monday in February.

Up for Discussion

Rosalind Gray, acting NIH associate director for legislative policy and analysis, summarized the year’s congressional activity involving NIH: There had been 18 hearings, 21 courtesy visits (half of those in the last 5 months of 2009), 27 briefings, 3 member visits (one visit included 16 members of Congress and 19 congressional staffers—the largest contingent in the last 25 years or so) and 154 bills introduced. She also briefly discussed several health care reform provisions related to NIH, including autism, comparative effectiveness research (CER), emergency medicine, health care quality, pain, postpartum depression and prevention and wellness.
ACD member Dr. Mary-Claire King (c), American Cancer Society professor at the University of Washington, makes a point. Flanking her are Dr. Michael Gottesman (l), NIH deputy director for intramural research, and Dr. Ralph Horwitz of Stanford.
ACD member Dr. Mary-Claire King (c), American Cancer Society professor at the University of Washington, makes a point. Flanking her are Dr. Michael Gottesman (l), NIH deputy director for intramural research, and Dr. Ralph Horwitz of Stanford.

Of particular interest is the CER component. Gray said the two versions—one in the House, one in the Senate—under discussion have significant differences that may not be able to be resolved and passed in the current session of Congress. ACD member Wolfe noted CER discussions that ignore cost-effectiveness issues go only halfway toward solving the health care problems the nation faces.

Recalling the first meeting he convened as NIH director, a brainstorming session with more than a dozen health economists, Collins agreed, saying, “I do think there is an opportunity here for NIH to consider funding some interesting research about even such things as how to model incentives for [health care] providers to result in good outcomes, but also cost-effectiveness…We’re going to be involved in this in whatever way we think scientifically makes the most sense.”

The 99th session of the ACD also covered several other issues: an update on the $10.4 billion NIH received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds; the agency’s upcoming role in oversight of extramural financial conflicts of interest and the status of stem cell policy. NIH had announced just days before the ACD meeting release of the first human stem cell lines available to scientists since President Obama issued the Executive Order to remove barriers to such research.

The full day’s session is archived under past events at http://videocast.nih.gov/. NIHRecord Icon

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