WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated Francis Collins, a physician and scientist who helped guide the Human Genome Project to completion, to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health.
Collins, 59, developed an important technique for identifying genes and went on to identify those involved in cystic fibrosis and neurofibromatosis, among other conditions. He was the first director of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute.
In recent years he has been a champion of “personalized medicine,” which hopes to harvest the fruits of the genomics revolution in the form of better and safer clinical care.
Rare among world-class scientists, Collins is also a born-again Christian – a fact that may help him build bridges with those who view some gene-based research as a potential threat to religious values.
Collins resigned as director of NIH’s genome institute last August and has spent the time since then finishing a book, “The Language of Life,” about the dawning era of personalized medicine, which will be published next year.
If confirmed by the Senate, Collins will lead NIH’s 27 institutes and centers, which together employ 18,000 people, most at the agency’s Bethesda, Md., campus. The agency has a budget of $31 billion this year, about 80 percent of which is distributed to scientists elsewhere.
Collins would take over from Raynard Kington, who was named acting director last fall after Elias Zerhouni, NIH director during the Bush administration, resigned.
The head of the Association of American Universities, Robert Berdahl, said that Collins “is acutely aware of the public policy and ethical implications of medical science,” noting his “passionate advocacy” for the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act, which is intended to both protect the privacy and assure the access to medical care of people with gene-based diseases.