Thus Spake Zerhouni

So, I wasn’t going to bother to post about this, given the ubiquitous coverage in the media and the blogosphere, but I might as well point you to pieces in the NYT and Science and The Scientist, think about what’s next, and settle in for the rest of the ride.

Given that the Great Zerhouni, like all political appointees, would have been submitting his resignation come January 2009, this is a bit odd he would bail a few months shy, especially since Kessler as FDA director set the precedent of straddling administrations (& parties in power; h/t BB). If the GZ had wanted to stay, it wasn’t out of the question. And with the CTSA Consortium just about to fill up and the T-R01s pouring in next January, I’m a bit surprised. Plus, if he truly wanted as minimal disruption as possible, he would have waited for the next appointed director to be approved by the Senate before stepping down. Someone will have the thankless job of serving as interim director for 6-8 months (or a couple of years, as warned by Nature).

One could look at the spate of conflict of interest issues and pressure by Grassley as inspiration to spend more quality time with his family, but I suspect it more likely that the GZ wants to handle his departure on his terms before the election fireworks (perhaps even participate in a nonpartisan fashion?) … and before the budget impasse gets underway. I wouldn’t blame him for taking a pass on that at all.

I am among those who are grateful for what the Great Zerhouni has done for the NIH, though I think opportunities for even greater impact on US biomedical research remain for the next Director. Such as? I’m sure the pundits will be outing folks soon. My only grapevine whisper has been Steve Hyman, the Provost at Harvard. I think the AAMC is right on in hoping the GZ’s successor “will continue to be a strong advocate for a sustainable, predictable, and increasing investment in NIH research.” I like the “sustainable, predictable” part as much as the “increasing”.

In the meantime, we have the Great Zerhouni’s message to the NIH folks themselves:

From: Zerhouni, Elias (NIH) [E]
Sent: Wednesday, September 24, 2008
To: NIH-STAFF-URGENT@LIST.NIH.GOV
Subject: Announcement and Message of Appreciation

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

For over six years, I have had the privilege of leading one of the greatest institutions in the world, the National Institutes of Health, the “Nation’s Medical Research Agency.” I have decided, however, that it is time for me to turn my attention to new opportunities, including several writing projects.

NIH is one of the true “wonders of the world,” and its strength comes from you, our scientists, administrators, staff, contractors, and trainees. As NIH Director, I have had the unparalleled privilege of working with the most extraordinary staff in the world, each one of you dedicated to a great, single mission: improving the nation’s health. Every one of you has played an integral part in our ability as an agency to build upon an outstanding record of achievement while creating new inroads that will continue to pay off for years to come. I want to express my sincere thanks for your support and your spirit of commitment, cooperation, and resourcefulness during my term as NIH director. It has made all the difference during my time here

I admire your unparalleled dedication to advancing innovative research, fostering scientific collaboration, and enhancing basic and clinical research for the benefit of people everywhere. I feel a special debt to the people I have worked with most closely-the Institute and Center Directors and my staff in the Office of the Director.

To everyone at NIH, thank you for your support. Together, we are experiencing a true revolution in the biomedical sciences, one that continues to have broad and profound implications for human health. I am extremely fortunate to have led the agency that has been at the center of this revolution, and an agency that met every challenge put to it as a result of that revolution.

I will be leaving NIH by the end of October, and Secretary Leavitt and I are working together to ensure an orderly transition in the weeks ahead. We will keep you informed of plans as they develop.

Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

10 Comments »

  1. George Smiley said

    Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

  2. bikemonkey said

    maybe his new employer (better believe he has one) was pressing?

    I’ve heard it whispered he’s heading for a presidency of his own, but we’ll see (he alludes to the possibility in the NYT). Still, this is almost akin to the Falcons’ coach quitting with just 3 games left in the season. He could have set the timing for his transition to be even more orderly & painless, though maybe one of the pool picks over at DrugMonkey for interim director is jonesing for the opportunity to take the reins. Wouldn’t be my favorite season to be in charge though. – writedit

  3. whimple said

    I am among those who are grateful for what the Great Zerhouni has done for the NIH

    …such as?

    It will come to me … okay, defending stem cell research … open access (despite problems in implementation) …

  4. BB said

    My younger daughter goes there, oh no!

    IMHO, he’s not the best candidate for a university president, not coming from a deep education/ fund raising background.

  5. writedit said

    Nature News has word on the interim director:

    Raynard Kington, NIH’s deputy director, will serve as acting director until a replacement is named by the new president and confirmed by the Senate. That can take months or years. Former NIH director Harold Varmus left his job at the end of 1999; Bush did not nominate Zerhouni as the new director until March 2002, and the Senate confirmed him in the job that May.

    Kington has been deputy director of NIH since 2003. A medical doctor with a master’s degree in business administration and a PhD in health policy and economics, he directed a division in the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before moving to NIH in 2000.

    … and also more forcefully dismisses the rumor that the Great Zerhouni might take on the presidency of Johns Hopkins:

    Zerhouni said he does not have another job lined up and dismissed recent rumours that he would be returning to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where the president, William Brody, is retiring at the end of this year. Zerhouni was executive vice dean at the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins before moving to NIH. “I know the speculation is I’m going to Johns Hopkins University and that has not been decided by me at all,” he said. “I wanted to take some time out between this and considering any other jobs.” He added that he planned to do some writing about the speed and implications of the changes now happening in biomedical research.

    Nice to know he’s not the one deciding who will be the next president of JHU. We’ll have to wait and see what’s in store for the GZ next.

  6. bikemonkey said

    talk circuit so his pockets can be embiggened by whichever political interests enjoyed his stewardship of the NIH perhaps? nice fat advance for some boring trite memoir, ditto.

  7. […] writedit: Given that the Great Zerhouni, like all political appointees, would have been submitting his resignation come January 2009, this is a bit odd he would bail a few months shy, especially since Kessler as FDA director set the precedent of straddling administrations (& parties in power; h/t BB). If the GZ had wanted to stay, it wasn’t out of the question. And with the CTSA Consortium just about to fill up and the T-R01s pouring in next January, I’m a bit surprised. Plus, if he truly wanted as minimal disruption as possible, he would have waited for the next appointed director to be approved by the Senate before stepping down. Someone will have the thankless job of serving as interim director for 6-8 months. […]

  8. writedit said

    Science likewise acknowledges rumors of the Great Zerhouni going to Johns Hopkins and gives a bit of rationale for his departure sooner rather than later …

    Rumors have swirled since January that Zerhouni might replace Johns Hopkins University President William Brody, who is retiring at the end of this year. When reporters asked Zerhouni about this last week, he responded: “That’s not been decided by me at all.” Instead, he said he plans to “take some time out” and do some writing. He chose to depart before the 4 November presidential election, he said, so that the next Administration will “focus on NIH as early and as soon as possible.”

    One can only hope.

  9. writedit said

    The Great Zerhouni (aka the Great Pumpkin???) departs on Halloween …

    October 24, 2008

    TO: IC Directors, OD Senior Staff

    FROM: Director, NIH

    SUBJECT: Designation of Raynard S. Kington, M.D., Ph.D.,
    as Acting Director, NIH, as of October 31, 2008

    Secretary Leavitt announced this afternoon that Raynard S. Kington, M.D.,
    Ph.D., will serve as Acting Director of the NIH upon my departure on October 31. Please see Secretary Leavitt’s message below.

    Dr. Kington has provided outstanding leadership as NIH’s Principal Deputy
    Director, sharing with me in the overall leadership and coordination of all
    NIH programs. He has also been the point person at the NIH on some of the
    toughest issues we have faced as an Agency, carrying out those
    responsibilities with unfailing skill and integrity. I have valued Dr.
    Kington’s service to me and to the institution very highly, and I am pleased
    that he has agreed to serve as Acting Director. The NIH will be in excellent
    hands during this transition.

    Please join me in congratulating Raynard. I know that you will give him your
    full support.

    Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

    Subject: Message from HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt

    As many of you know, Dr. Elias Zerhouni recently announced his departure from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the end of this month. He has been a powerful voice and leader in this position and will be greatly missed.

    Effective October 31st, Dr. Raynard S. Kington will become Acting NIH Director. Since 2003, Dr. Kington has been Principal Deputy Director of NIH and worked closely with the Director on the overall leadership, policy direction and coordination of NIH’s 27 Institutes and Centers. He has previously served in various other positions in NIH and the Centers for Disease Control as well as being a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation.

    Dr. Kington will be an effective leader of the agency in this transition period. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Kington and thanking him for his service.

  10. writedit said

    No Presidency for the Great Zerhouni. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Johns Hopkins University is expected to announce today that it has selected as its new president Ronald J. Daniels, a Canadian-educated lawyer and law school dean who currently serves as the provost of the University of Pennsylvania.

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