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NIH chief Dr. Francis Collins to step down

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Washington — Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will step down from his role at the agency by the end of the year, he announced Tuesday.

Collins, a physician-geneticist, took the helm of the health agency in 2009 and went on to serve three presidents of both political parties across his 12-year tenure. He is the longest-serving presidentially appointed director of the NIH, according to the agency.

Collins, 71, said in a statement he made the decision to resign in consultation with his wife and family. While calling it "an incredible privilege" to lead the NIH, he said he believes "that no single person should serve in the position for too long."

"I'm most grateful and proud of the NIH staff and the scientific community, whose extraordinary commitment to lifesaving research delivers hope to the American people and the world every day," Collins said.

President Biden, who worked with Collins when he was vice president, praised him as "one of the most important scientists of our time" in a statement on his departure as director.

"Millions of people will never know Dr. Collins saved their lives. Countless researchers will aspire to follow in his footsteps. And I will miss the counsel, expertise, and good humor of a brilliant mind and dear friend," the president said. "We can never fully repay his wife Diane and their family for all that Dr. Collins has given to the nation, but we are happy for them and the next chapter they will write together."

Before leading the NIH, Collins was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute for 15 years and led the international effort to map the human genome, which was completed in 2003. He is expected to continue leading the research laboratory at the National Human Genome Research Institute, according to the NIH.

NIH Director
Dr. Francis Collins before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on September 9, 2020, in Washington.  Michael Reynolds / AP

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra lauded Collins in a statement, calling him a "master of scientific breakthroughs and scientific reason."

"Few people could come anywhere close to achieving in a lifetime what Dr. Collins has at the helm of NIH," Becerra said. "It takes an extraordinary person to tackle the biggest scientific challenges facing our nation — and under three presidents, amidst three distinctly different chapters of American history."

Collins was tapped to lead the NIH by former President Barack Obama and asked to remain in the post by former President Donald Trump as well as Mr. Biden. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President George W. Bush in 2007 for his work on genetic research and sequencing the full human genome.

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