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October 5, 2021: Dr. Collins’ Impact on NIH, NCATS and Beyond

This morning, Dr. Francis Collins announced his plans to step down as the NIH director at the end of the year. In addition to bringing mixed emotions, this news made me reflect on just a few of his many accomplishments, especially those that have been so critical to me personally and professionally.

Francis’ vision to transform the translational science process in an effort to speed the delivery of new drugs and other health solutions and challenge the status quo drove the creation of NCATS, which I now have the great fortune to lead as acting director. NCATS’ creation was not an easy lift, yet Francis had the passion, creativity and tenacity to make it happen. This year, NCATS is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and we are delighted that Francis will be joining us to mark that occasion on December 7.

Francis also inspired and formed the All of Us Research Program (AoU). At that time, I was a division director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and he asked me to be a part of the founding team at AoU. Creating the largest, most diverse longitudinal study using novel funding mechanisms to assemble a national team of scientists and participants was both terrifying and tremendously exciting. Francis led that effort with endless energy, inventiveness and compassion. I remember standing in a very small hotel conference room with him and the AoU team when our first video describing the program and its promise was unveiled. While he watched the video, Francis’ always expressive face showed clearly how proud he was of AoU’s launch and the promise of precision medicine research for addressing common health challenges.

When COVID-19 emerged, Francis called on NIH and the scientific community to work together to meet the challenge and urgency of the pandemic. He created new programs that saved lives and moved with uncharacteristic speed. Ever since those first meetings in early 2020, he has been in lock-step with leaders within the NIH and the U.S. government and across the biomedical ecosystem, ready to jump in to help unstick problems and celebrate the big and small wins, while shouldering the weight of the crisis.

Of particular note is his dedication to changing the face of NIH leadership — literally. He increased the number of women and people of color in leadership positions across the organization, and he is leaving the world’s premier biomedical research institution stronger for it.

On a personal note, Francis has been an inspirational leader, advocate, mentor and friend to me. I am grateful for his intellect, his creativity, his moral compass and his humanity.

Francis, thank you. Here is wishing you and Diane a wonderful next chapter.

Joni L. Rutter, Ph.D.
Acting Director
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences

Last updated on October 12, 2023