NIH chief pushes researchers to a commercial path

The New York Times profiles Francis Collins (photo), the new head of the National Institutes of Health, in today's issue. The first half of the article is devoted largely to Collins' controversial religious notions--he's attempting to meld his passionate belief in God with a rigorous adherence to the scientific process--and personal style. But the scientific community will be more focused on his discussion about the NIH budget and the need for researchers to think about commercializing their work, which is covered in the second half of the lengthy piece.

The NIH handles about $30 billion a year in research funding, making it the primary financier of biomedical research work in academia. This year the NIH is also benefiting from a multibillion-dollar windfall of stimulus cash. But unless Collins can make a compelling case that the country will benefit enormously by maintaining a generous approach to funding, Collins says the NIH's ability to fund biomedical grants will likely fall to "historic lows."

Collins will have considerable personal influence over $500 million a year in NIH grants, and in a glimpse of his priorities Collins says he would like to see the NIH advance the role genomics will play in matching cancer drugs to tumor types. In one tantalizingly brief segment, Collins says he wants to see more university researchers to think beyond discovery and get involved in commercializing their work, especially when there may be little or no profits to speak of.

- read the article in the New York Times