Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Next NIH Director: probably Francis Collins, probably soon

Francis Collins said to be contender to run NIH, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2009.  Excerpt:

Francis S. Collins, the scientist who led the U.S. government drive to map the human genetic code, is the leading candidate to run the National Institutes of Health, a source familiar with the selection process said.

Screening for Collins, 59, is in the final stages, said the source. Collins would take over an agency that President Obama has made key to his plans for reviving the U.S. economy and overhauling healthcare. The 27 institutes and centers under the NIH umbrella employ more than 18,000 people and fund research at thousands of universities and medical schools.

The former head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, a member agency, Collins became a driving force in the race to catalog the 3 billion letters of the human genetic code. As director of the institutes, Collins will face calls to boost spending on cancer research and free science from politics as well as financial conflicts of interest.

"NIH is a huge enterprise, and I think Francis has very good experience with getting the best out of a huge enterprise from what he did in the genome project," said David Baltimore, a biology professor at Caltech who won the 1975 Nobel Prize in medicine, in a telephone interview in February. "He's also very well liked in Congress."

Collins didn't respond to efforts to reach him. The White House declined to comment....

Comments.  This matters for two reasons:

  1. Collins is not just a leader in mapping the human genome, but in making the results OA.  He has also defended OA at the NIH's PubChem against anti-OA lobbying by the ACS.  Kathy Hudson, Director of the US Genetics and Public Policy Center, described Collins as "a tireless champion of data sharing and open access to scientific information...."  When Celera made its genomic data OA in 2005, Collins told the Baltimore Sun that "[t]his data just wants to be public....It's the kind of fundamental information that has no direct connection to a product, it's information that everybody wants, and it will find its way into the public."  Collins would be the most experienced defender of OA ever to take the reins of a US federal agency.
  2. The fact that Collins is in the final stages of vetting means that we'll soon have an NIH Director.  The position has been vacant since Elias Zerhouni stepped down in October 2008, and the leadership vacuum has impaired the fight against the Conyers bill.  Note David Baltimore's assessment that Collins is "very well liked in Congress." 

Also see our past posts on Collins.