March 18, 2021: Dr. Christopher P. Austin to step down as NCATS director
The last 10 years at NCATS, and almost 20 years at NIH, have been the most exciting, gratifying and fulfilling of my career. I have had the opportunity to help start a new field — translational science — and a new NIH Center — NCATS — to exemplify and support it. I have had the privilege of working with the smartest, most dedicated and innovative people imaginable — my fellow NCATSians, NIH Institute and Center directors, grantees, and public- and private-sector collaborators. To say that this has been the experience of a lifetime would be to minimize it.
My last day at NCATS will be April 15, 2021. So why am I leaving, and why now? First and foremost, because NCATS is ready. When I became the first permanent NCATS director in 2012, there was much to do to establish the new Center’s mission and culture, assemble a leadership team, and demonstrate the ability of translational science to deliver transformative improvements in the process of developing treatments and cures and getting them to all the patients who need them. All these goals have now been accomplished. The remarkable people in NCATS leadership at every level — and the stellar staff who embody the NCATS culture of team-driven success every day — show me that we have together achieved what good leaders know is the ultimate validation, which is that their organization is able to flourish without them. I am supremely confident that NCATS’ greatest accomplishments are still to come.
I have been fortunate to serve under two extraordinary NIH directors, Elias Zerhouni and Francis Collins, who have supported the bold vision that created what is now NCATS. I came to NIH in 2002 to take on a unique opportunity at a singular moment in scientific history: to help design and implement scientific programs to derive biological insights and therapeutic potential from the human genome sequence that was soon to be completed. I often refer to that opportunity as the best job in the history of science. And indeed, it was. I started myriad entirely new initiatives, in areas new to NIH and new to science. The hundreds of collaborators, grantees and colleagues I have worked with have made these initiatives successful beyond my highest expectations.
Dr. Collins has officially appointed Joni Rutter as acting director while a national search for a new NCATS director is underway. As NCATS deputy director since January 2019, Joni has been my partner on every major decision affecting NCATS for more than two years. She has demonstrated unmatched vision, scientific direction and management skill, and I greatly appreciate her willingness to lead the Center forward during this transition period.
My new challenge, as a CEO–Partner at Flagship Pioneering, will be to infuse the same values and culture we have established at NCATS into new private-sector companies and deliver transformative improvements to people living with illnesses that the wonders of science have not yet reached. I will be watching NCATS with pride and admiration, and cheering on its every success.
Christopher P. Austin, M.D.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences