Over the past month, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, has given several interviews and authored a high-profile “policy forum” piece in the journal Science. In each case, he continued to encourage robust support for the NIH that he says will bring about great new societal benefits.
In an article entitled “Opportunities for Research and NIH” in the Jan. 1 edition of Science, Collins reprises the five areas of biomedical research that he believes are ripe with opportunity: high-throughput technology, translational medicine, health-care reform, global health, and biomedical research community reinvigoration.
While considering how to reinvigorate the biomedical research community, Collins draws attention to “severe disruptions” that may occur when stimulus money runs out in 2011. He also mentions the changes in the peer-review process that seek to address the conservatism in the review system that is exacerbated when funding is tight. Finally, he focuses on the importance of the pipeline and draws attention to the lack of faculty positions for recently awarded doctorates. He specifically calls on NIH to develop models that will guide decisions about the optimum size of the biomedical work force.
On Dec. 21, Collins was interviewed at length by C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” series. In between questions about conflicts of interest, stem cells and his faith, Collins discussed the NIH budget. He noted that the institute has seen little increase in its budget since 2003 and that inflation has eroded approximately 15 percent of the NIH budget. He discusses the response from the research community to the stimulus and its the concern about “falling of the cliff” when stimulus dollars are exhausted. While he emphasized the importance of NIH research for medical breakthroughs, he noted that advancement of medical research will be tempered by what is possible based on the budget.
On Dec. 29, U.S News and World Report interviewed Collins for its “Leadership for the Next Decade Series.” Collins said that his biggest headache as director is that research is not moving fast enough. “Human suffering is all around us,” Collins said. He said he is encouraged by the progress in many fields including heart disease, but “there are too many people we haven’t helped yet.”