Lawrence Tabak, principal deputy director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will become the agency’s acting director on 20 December—the day after current Director Francis Collins leaves his post, the Department of Health and Human Services said today. Collins, the physician-geneticist who has served as head of the $43 billion NIH for 12 years, announced in October that he would resign by year’s end, but his departure date had been unclear.
Tabak “has been my right arm for pretty much my entire time as NIH director,” Collins told his top advisory board, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), earlier today.
Before becoming NIH principal deputy director in 2010, Tabak spent 10 years directing the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. A dentist and biochemist, Tabak still heads a lab there studying glycoproteins. Onlookers say he was the expected choice to serve as NIH acting director and will bring stability to the transition. In recent years, Tabak has taken on issues ranging from bolstering the reproducibility of NIH-funded research to improving diversity in the biomedical workforce. “I have absolute confidence that the NIH will be in wonderful shape,” Collins said.
Collins expects to return full time to his own lab at NIH’s genome institute studying type 2 diabetes and a rare aging disease called progeria. “I’m thinking of 2022 for me as a sabbatical” for reading, writing, and pondering his next move, he told ACD.
The White House is now vetting candidates for NIH director, Collins said, but he predicted it could be “quite a few more months before a permanent director is installed.” The position requires approval by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the full Senate. For the four directors over the past 30 years, Senate confirmation has taken anywhere from 1 month (in Collins’s case) to 6 months.