NIH Director Francis Collins Cites NIH Challenges and Priorities

New Director Dr. Francis Collins Cites Funding as NIH’s Biggest Challenge, Describes Five Areas of Special Opportunity

Legislative Update
August 17, 2009

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Today, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who was confirmed by the Senate on August 7, provided his vision in comments to NIH staff and medical research advocates. In that regard, he frequently mentioned “community” and vowed to promote a culture of informality and friendliness and an atmosphere of trust and transparency.

Dr. Collins, who served on the Obama Transition Team, noted his pride in serving in an Administration that views “science as a real solution to our nation’s problems.” He also acknowledged the leadership of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and predicted that she and President Obama and would shortly visit the NIH campus.

Dr. Collins cited sustained funding as the NIH’s biggest challenge, especially in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, which reflects the first budget year after the two-year economic stimulus funding of $10.4 billion for NIH provided by Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Dr. Collins placed the responsibility directly on NIH to demonstrate the need for funding increases with Congress, noting that it must communicate “themes that resonate,” such as how biomedical research can play a key role in reducing healthcare costs, and how ARRA-funded projects reflect exciting and meaningful research that must be adequately funded post-stimulus.

He described five areas of special opportunity he will pursue during his tenure:

  • Apply high-throughput technologies (e.g. gene sequencing, nanotechnology, microbiome) to determine the basis of disease.
  • Translational research, especially rapid development of diagnostics and treatments/therapies. He specifically cited the yet-unknown potential for embryonic stem cells in therapeutic applications.
  • The beneficial role of science in healthcare reform, especially developing data that will be helpful in making decisions. He mentioned the important role of Comparative Effectiveness Research, noting that NIH has supported this research for years (although it may not have been titled as such). He added that data will also be important in addressing the basis of health disparities and healthcare delivery options associated with personalized medicine, the latter being a subject about which he has written in a forthcoming book (publication date: January 2010).
  • Global Health, including non-communicable diseases. He commented that it is time for the US to be the “doctor to the world” instead of the “soldier to the world,” and noted that governmental agencies would need the assistance of major international philanthropic organizations to be successful.
  • Re-invigorating the biomedical research community through predictable and sustained funding and judicious use of available resources (e.g., NIH common fund and momentum from ARRA-funded projects).

Dr. Collins applauded the tenure of Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D., who served as Acting NIH Director since November 2008 and will return to his role as Principal Deputy Director.

In a July 8 press statement, NAEVR commended President Obama’s nomination of Dr. Collins to lead the NIH, citing the past collaborative efforts of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI, at which he served as Director) and the National Eye Institute (NEI) on the genetic basis of eye disease. This has resulted in one quarter of all genes discovered to date being associated with vision impairment and eye disease.

NAEVR will seek a meeting with Dr. Collins to pledge the eye and vision community’s support for his priorities, as well as for NIH/NEI funding increases.