National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins plans to announce his resignation on Tuesday after nearly three decades at the agency, including 12 years at the helm, three sources tell POLITICO.
The 71-year-old physician-geneticist led the agency under three consecutive presidents — making him the first presidentially appointed NIH director to serve in more than one administration and the longest-serving NIH director.
His departure had been in the works for some time, one person familiar said. Officials from NIH, the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Collins has been on the front lines urging Americans to wear masks and get vaccinated. While Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and President JoeBiden’s chief medical adviser, became the most visible advocate for the administration’s vaccination efforts, the Biden administration has increasingly put Collins on network shows to urge vaccinations and defend the booster strategy.
“This is the way it ought to be,” Collins said about the Food and Drug Administration’s decision late last month to limit boosters to certain vulnerable populations for now, despite the Biden administration’s pledge that boosters would launch broadly by Sept. 20. “Science sort of playing out in a very transparent way, looking at the data coming from multiple places, our country, other countries, and trying to make the best decision for right now,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, hailed Collins’ contributions to biomedical science, writing on Twitter, “I am saddened to see him stepping down, want to express the deepest appreciation for decades of leadership.”
Raised on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Collins became fascinated by the emerging field of genetics after undergraduate studies in chemistry at the University of Virginia and graduate work at Yale. He enrolled in the medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then went on to posts at Yale and the University of Michigan, eventually identifying genes for cystic fibrosis and other disorders.
Collins has spoken at length about his conversion from atheism to Christianity and penned a book in 2006 called “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” A year later, he founded The BioLogos Foundation, a group that aims to reconcile religion and science and argues that God created the world through evolution.
In 2009, he left the organization after President Barack Obama nominated him to lead the NIH and was sworn in after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate.