Health and Science

Francis Collins: As far as I’m able to see, I’m NIH director

Collins: As far as I'm able to see, I'm the NIH director
Collins: As far as I'm able to see, I'm the NIH director

In January, a day before the inauguration, news came that Donald Trump had done something that the scientific community met with some surprise and a lot of relief: he asked National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins to stick around.

Only it wasn't clear for how long.

"We just learned that Dr. Collins has been held over by the Trump administration," an NIH spokesperson told Science Magazine at the time. "We have no additional details at this time."

Two months later, Collins, who took the role in 2009 under President Barack Obama, says nothing's changed.

"I've been here since January, and that seems to be working out," Collins said in an interview with CNBC. "Obviously nobody who works for the government is assured that this is a permanent position, but I'm assuming right now that as far as I'm able to see I'm the NIH director."

Collins' comments come as the president is seeking major budget cuts at NIH, the nation's engine for scientific and medical research. On top of an almost 20 percent, or $6 billion, reduction next year, Trump more recently called for a $1.2 billion reduction to this year's budget as well, prompting an outcry from the scientific community.


Collins took a more measured approach.

"It would be, I think, important to point out that the Congress has been extremely enthusiastic about medical research, especially in the last couple years, and it seems likely they will continue to have that view," Collins said. "And so when you consider what medical research can do for reducing health-care costs, for alleviating suffering, for stimulating the economy, for contributing to American leadership, it does seem that the Congress is likely to pay attention to that."

And he provided some perspective from the vantage-point of having worked at NIH for more than two decades.

"Based on the time I've been at NIH, which is now 24 years, people should not be in a place of being too panicked about the ups and downs," Collins said. "We've had lots of ups and downs, and we ultimately seem to come through them pretty well."

It was a more sanguine reaction than many experienced.



While noting he serves "at the pleasure of the president," Collins said: "I'm going to use every bit of my energy and my determination and ability to try to bring smart people alongside to move this noble agenda forward for the benefit of all those people who are waiting for answers to terrible diseases. We're going to try to help."