NIH director leaving post at end of October

Elias Zerhouni, MD, promoted broad, cross-institutional research projects and the translation of basic science into treatments.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Oct. 20, 2008

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Elias Zerhouni, MD, announced Sept. 24 he will step down as director of the National Institutes of Health at the end of October. He will pursue writing projects and explore other professional opportunities.

He was confirmed as NIH director in May 2002. Among his major initiatives was the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which brought together all 27 institutes and centers to work on large projects.

Included were broad research agendas covering behavior change, 3-D tissue models, the transition from acute to chronic pain and the evidence for pharmacogenomics clinical studies.

Dr. Zerhouni also launched the director's Pioneer Awards and the New Innovator Awards. These were designed to encourage high-risk, pioneering projects. Another of his goals was to promote research that went from bench to bedside and resulted in tangible gains for patients.

Shortly after arriving at NIH, he established the Obesity Research Task Force to address one of the nation's most costly and debilitating health challenges.

Among his more controversial initiatives was his 2005 decision to prohibit NIH scientists from consulting for drug and device companies. Although unpopular at the time, it soon was seen as a precursor for similar initiatives undertaken by other institutions and promoted by members of Congress in an effort to improve transparency in research.

His tenure also bridged a turbulent period during which the NIH budget leveled off after several years of unprecedented growth.

Dr. Zerhouni, who was born in Algeria and attended medical school in Algiers, is a radiologist who came to the NIH from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he was executive vice dean of the medical school. Before that he had chaired the Hopkins radiology department.

NIH Deputy Director Raynard S. Kington, MD, PhD, is expected to serve as interim director until the next president names a successor to Dr. Zerhouni.

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