Dr. Francis Collins is one of the most important scientists of our time.
During the course of his extraordinary three-decade career at the National Institutes of Health, the NIH, and the world’s preeminent medical research organization, he helped finish the sequencing and mapping of the human genome to unlock the mysteries of our DNA, which earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, and through which I first got to know him when I was a United States Senator.
In 2009, President Obama asked Dr. Collins to serve as NIH Director. It was then when I got to truly know him, trust him, and lean on him.
He helped launched the Obama-Biden Administration’s groundbreaking work on precision medicine to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease by taking into greater, and more precise, account of people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles.
Like he did with the human genome, we asked Dr. Collins and the NIH to map the human brain through our BRAIN Initiative to better understand Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and other neurological diseases.
And after my son Beau died from cancer, and President Obama asked me to launch our National Cancer Moonshot, I turned to Dr. Collins to help lead the effort to end cancer as we know it. There was no one I trusted more.
Dr. Collins was asked to continue to lead the NIH by President Trump and was central in the NIH’s unprecedented efforts to develop the COVID-19 vaccine.
After I was elected president, Dr. Collins was one of the first people I asked to stay in his role with the nation facing one of the worst public health crises in our history. Another critical reason I asked him to stay was to help lay the groundwork for the first-of-its-kind Advanced Research Project Agency for Health, ARPA-H, to harness all of our knowledge and resources to better detect, treat, and cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer.
I was grateful he answered the call to serve even though it was asking him to stay on the job longer than anyone in NIH history. Today, I understand his decision to step down from his post at the end of this year after an incredible and consequential tenure.
Millions of people will never know Dr. Collins saved their lives. Countless researchers will aspire to follow in his footsteps. And I will miss the counsel, expertise, and good humor of a brilliant mind and dear friend.
We can never fully repay his wife Diane and their family for all that Dr. Collins has given to the nation, but we are happy for them and the next chapter they will write together.
As he returns to his lab at the National Human Genome Research Institute, we look forward to his unmatched ability to unlock the possibilities within our reach and that define the best of who we are as Americans.