(Headline USA) The director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis S. Collins, says he is stepping down by the end of the year, having led the research center for 12 years and become a prominent source of public information during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There comes a time where an institution like NIH really benefits from new vision, new leadership,” Collins, 71, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “This was the right timing.”
A formal announcement was expected Tuesday from NIH. The Post and Politico reported Collins’ plans Monday night.
Technically speaking, Collins may be considered the boss of US coronavirus czar Anthony Fauci, whose National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is housed under the NIH umbrella.
However, Fauci appears to have operated with limited—if any—oversight from Collins, even before stepping into the public spotlight as the leading spokesperson for the government’s pandemic response.
Both Fauci and Collins may be implicated in having greenlighted and funded controversial gain-of-function research that was conducted by the organization EcoHealth Alliance in cooperation with the Chinese government at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
That research is now widely believed to have been the origin of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, although leading authorities have all been hesitant to step forward and acknowledge their role in creating the virus that they now claim to be trying to contain the outbreak of by demanding Americans curb an increasing number of freedoms.
The reported number of COVID fatalities also reached a grim milestone of 700,000 last week.
Collins, who is outspoken about his Christian faith despite being one of the country’s leading government scientists, managed better than Fauci to navigate the choppy waters of partisanship that came following the catastrophe.
But his departure suggests that growing public malaise and political pressure were starting to bear down on him also.
Fauci, meanwhile, robustly rejected the notion that he would be departing anytime soon, despite the increased criticism and scrutiny he faces for his inconsistent and dishonest leadership.
Based in Bethesda, Maryland, and a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is the nation’s medical research agency and operates more than two dozen institutes and centers. It lays claim to being the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world.
Collins was appointed director in 2009 by President Barack Obama and was asked to remain in that post by Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He is the only presidentially appointed NIH director to serve under multiple administrations.
In the interview with the Post, Collins said he had decided not to stay too long into the Biden administration and was confident that the NIH’s role in developing therapeutics, tests and vaccines for the coronavirus had reached “a pretty stable place.”
Collins served as director of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993-2008 and led the international Human Genome Project, which in 2003 completed a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press