The Scientific Activist

Earlier today, Elias Zerhouni–who has been the director of the NIH since 2002–announced that he will resign at the end of this October. According to the NIH press release, he is stepping down “to pursue writing projects and explore other professional opportunities.” The Hill has more from Zerhouni about his resignation:

“I felt it would be in the best interests of the NIH for me to leave before the election,” Zerhouni said. With a vacancy in the directorship, he explained, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) wins the presidential election in November, he would be more inclined to name a replacement, he said.

“I would want people to focus on NIH as early and as soon as possible after the election,” Zerhouni said, rather than assume the agency is in good hands already. Zerhouni said he has no interest in remaining in office under the next administration.

Zerhouni stated that “there’s no precipitating event” that led to his decision to vacate his position and rejected characterizing his departure as a resignation. “It’s just basically stepping down at the right time,” he said. “I’ve always said I would end my tenure at this time.”

Eliot Zerhouni has overseen the NIH at difficult time, when its budget has been stagnant, leading to a precipitous decline in grant success rates. Two decent accomplishments, however, that occurred during his tenure were ethics reform and the NIH’s new policy on open access to publications funded by its research dollars. The legacy of what’s more commonly touted (at least by Zerhouni) as his major achievement–the NIH Roadmap–remains more dubious, as it is often blamed for siphoning funding away from more basic and higher-risk research.


DrugMonkey has more.