NIH Director to Keep Job Under Trump, for Now

NIH Director to Keep Job Under Trump, for Now January 20, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

As Congressional hearings over Trump cabinet positions continue, and speculation continues over potential nominees to head the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that Francis Collins will remain its director, at least temporarily.

The NIH reported yesterday that Collins “has been held over by the Trump administration. We have no additional details at this time.” It then directed queries to Trump’s transition team, which as of this writing had not responded to The Washington Post’s requests for comment.

Collins was appointed to the job in 2009. He has indicated he would like to remain as the director. Other potential picks for the spot include Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Patrick Soon-Shiong, often dubbed the “World’s wealthiest doctor,” as well as a biotech entrepreneur. Soon-Shiong would come with a laundry list of conflicts of interest, with a handful of public companies in the biotech space, his involvement in The Cancer MoonShot 2020 project, and a $70.5 million investment in Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

Collins, a geneticist, is perhaps best known for heading the Human Genome Project. He has been head of the NIH for eight years. Prior to heading the NIH, he was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993 to 2008. Prior to joining NIH, he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Michigan. He has indicated that if he is not chosen to continue as director of the NIH, he will return to his NIH research laboratory.

“I think everyone in the research community will be thrilled,” Tony Mazzaschi, senior director for policy and research at the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health in Washington DC, told Nature, regarding Collins staying on. “It brings some stability to NIH during a stressful budget time.”

The government is currently operating a stopgap spending bill that ends in April.

As a researcher, Collins’ laboratory has discovered numerous important genes, including those involved with cystic fibrosis (CF), neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease, a familial endocrine cancer syndrome, genes for adult onset type 2 diabetes, and the gene that causes Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. He is also the author of the books, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief” and “The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine.”

Collins received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Virginia, a PhD in Physical Chemistry from Yale University, and an M.D. with Honors from the vUniversity of North Carolina.

Upon winning the presidency, there were concerns by the scientific community on what direction President Trump might take in terms of science. Those concerns revolved around lowering of drug standards, due to comments made about FDA reform, some tweets he has made about the links between vaccines and autism, Vice President Pence’s well-known opposition to embryonic stem cell research, the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace, mixed messages over drug prices, and NIH and other scientific funding.

Although much was made of Trump’s proposed budget over arts cuts, any budget that proposes cutting $10.5 trillion over 10 years is likely to have dramatic effects on science spending as well. To date, the proposed budget has indicated major cuts in funding to the Commerce and Energy Departments, as well as Transportation, Justice and State.

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