Will Trump keep NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins? 4 things to know

Though President-elect Donald Trump has yet to indicate who he will appoint to serve as director of the National Institutes of Health, the current Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, has indicated he would like the job.

Here are four things to know about Dr. Collins and the likelihood of him retaining his post as director of NIH.

1. Dr. Collins told multiple news outlets he would stay on if the opportunity is offered to him. "If I were to be asked, I will tell you, I love this place, and I love the mission of this place. And I'm also somebody who really believes in public service," Dr. Collins told Bloomberg BNA last week. "So if I were asked to stay, I would consider it a privilege. But there may be lots of other attractive candidates out there that they will choose instead to offer that opportunity to. It's not my call." If Dr. Collins is not offered the position, he plans to continue his lab work within the agency, according to an interview with STAT. "I love NIH," Dr. Collins told STAT. "My assumption always had been that I'd go back into the lab, working with postdocs."

2. Dr. Collins has garnered support from Republicans in Congress. Earlier this month, four Republican members of Congress wrote a letter to Mr. Trump urging him to retain Dr. Collins in the position. "Dr. Collins is the right person, at the right time, to continue to lead the world's premier biomedical research agency," the congressmen wrote. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Tom Cole, R-Okla., signed the letter.

Sen. Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Rep. Upton, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, helped lead the 21st Century Cures legislation. Sen. Blunt and Rep. Cole serve as chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees that determine the NIH budget.

3. However, Dr. Collins is not necessarily a shoo-in. He does have some competition and a few naysayers. His top contender is Rep. Andy Harris, MD, R-Md., who is also campaigning for the job. Rep. Harris is an anesthesiologist and has experience conducting clinical and basic science research, in addition to his political background, he told Science magazine. Rep. Harris told Science he would build on the 21st Century Cures legislation and shift more funding to diseases like Alzheimer's, which drive up healthcare costs.

Current NIH Director Dr. Collins also faces criticisms from those who would like Mr. Trump to "drain the swamp." One such critic, Michael Eisen, PhD, a biologist at University of California, Berkeley and investigator at Chevy Chase, Md.-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute, wrote in a blog he feels, "[C]urrent NIH Director Francis Collins has systematically undermined the effectiveness of the institution and overseen a decline of American science."

4. Dr. Collins was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009. The appointment was approved unanimously by the Senate, according to Bloomberg. Dr. Collins is known for his work on the international Human Genome Project, which identified and mapped the sequence of human DNA. He was director of the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 to 2008. Prior to NIH, Dr. Collins was an investigator with Howard Hughes Medical Institute at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. During Dr. Collin's tenure at NIH, the agency has established the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, the Accelerating Medicines Partnership and the Precision Medicine Initiative.


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