HealthDay News — Francis Collins, M.D., the longest-serving director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, plans to step down from his leadership post by the end of the year, the institute is expected to announce on Tuesday.
Collins headed the government’s effort to map the entire human genetic code 20 years ago, and he is now one of the most respected public health leaders in this country’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, The Washington Post reported.
Following his 12-year stint as the leader of the NIH, the 71-year-old physician-geneticist will return to his lab at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, The Post reported. Born in Staunton, Virginia, and home-schooled through the sixth grade, Collins helped discover the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis and neurofibromatosis.
Collins told The Post he decided to step down now because he did not want to serve too long in the Biden administration before leaving the position, and he felt confident that the NIH role in developing tests, treatments, and vaccines for COVID-19 was stable. “There comes a time where an institution like NIH really benefits from new vision, new leadership,” Collins said. “This was the right timing.”
Collins’ departure as NIH director comes as science has become highly politicized and even well-established medical facts have been challenged. “Every issue, the polarization gets deeper and deeper, the tribes have formed their views, and it’s very hard to see how we step back from that,” Collins told The Post. He described the political battles over COVID-19 vaccines and mask-wearing as heartbreaking. “I did not dream that we would end up with fantastic, historic [vaccine test] results, and here we are in October 2021 with 70 million” people unvaccinated and hundreds of thousands dead “as a result of a culture war,” Collins said. “I did not imagine that possible in the United States of America.”
An NIH official told The Post that no decision on an interim NIH director has been made.