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
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.