Issue Date: September 29, 2008
Elias Zerhouni Steps Down
After six-and-a-half years at the helm of the U.S.'s premier biomedical research agency, Elias A. Zerhouni will step down as director of NIH by the end of October.
"I feel very privileged to have led this agency," said Zerhouni in a teleconference announcing his departure. He noted that his decision to leave is a natural evolution and his time served is consistent with that of previous directors. He said he has no immediate plans except to write and travel.
Zerhouni, 57, has led the agency through several challenging transitions including a flattening of its budget and a change in the way science is done. To help with these transitions, he established the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which is a trans-agency initiative to tackle complex biomedical problems. Zerhouni also put in place new programs targeting innovative research and young investigators (see page 28).
His tenure has also included leading the agency through a congressional conflict-of-interest investigation, which led to significant reforms in how NIH researchers can invest in or consult with biomedical companies. Zerhouni also instituted a controversial open-access policy for NIH-funded research (see page 33).
His leadership on all of these issues has garnered him respect throughout Congress and the research community.
Zerhouni "has been an absolute jewel of a public servant," says Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), ranking member and former chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee. "He has fulfilled the highest goals of the NIH with integrity and honor. He will be missed."
"Dr. Zerhouni is a charismatic and extremely articulate spokesman for research, able to convey his vision of the power of biomedical science to a wide audience," says Richard B. Marchase, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. "We may not have agreed with him on every issue, but he was always willing to engage in a dialogue with those who held different views."
During the teleconference, Zerhouni noted that the timing of his departure is important because it makes it clear to the next Administration that they will need to find a new NIH director immediately. An acting director is expected to be named soon.
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