Francis Collins will stay on as head of NIH

The White House announced Tuesday that Francis S. Collins will stay on as director of the National Institutes of Health, extending Collins’s tenure even as the administration proposes deep cuts to the government’s premier biomedical research center.

Collins, a physician and geneticist, has led NIH since 2009. He is renowned for his leadership of the International Human Genome Project, which in 2003 sequenced the complete human genetic blueprint for the first time.

“I am honored to continue as the director of the National Institutes of Health and consider it a great privilege to serve at a time of unprecedented opportunity to advance health and relieve suffering through biomedical research,” Collins said in a statement.

One challenge could come as the Trump administration seeks to cut the NIH budget for fiscal 2018 from $31.8 billion to $26 billion. That would mean huge reductions in components such as the National Cancer Institute ($1 billion) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases ($838 million), where HIV research is conducted.

Congress rejected a similar effort to slash NIH funding for the current fiscal year, ultimately adding $2 billion to the agency’s budget.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in a statement that the decision to retain Collins is “good news for the country and one of President Trump’s best appointments. There’s nobody better qualified than Francis Collins to help accelerate the medical miracles that have the potential to help virtually every American family.”

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NIH is home to the Cancer Moonshot launched by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden after the death of Biden’s son, Beau, from brain cancer. Last week, Collins announced that the institutes would begin to help tackle another high-profile health issue by partnering with private companies in a bid to develop nonaddictive medications for chronic pain, better treatments for opioid addiction and improved methods of reversing opioid overdoses.

The agency employs about 20,000 people, most of them at its sprawling Bethesda, Md., campus, where scientists conduct cutting-edge research and treat patients who take part in efforts to develop new therapies. But more than 80 percent of its budget goes to researchers at universities and other facilities around the United States and across the globe.

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