Elias A. Zerhouni to End Tenure as Director of
the National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Md, September 24, 2008 — Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., the
director of the National Institutes of Health, today announced
his plans to step down at the end of October 2008 to pursue writing
projects and explore other professional opportunities.
Dr. Zerhouni, a physician scientist and world-renowned leader
in radiology research, has served as NIH director since May 2002.
He led the agency through a challenging period that required innovative
solutions to transform basic and clinical research into tangible
benefits for patients and their families. One of the hallmarks
of his tenure is the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, launched
in 2003, after extensive consultations with the scientific community.
The NIH Roadmap brought together all of the NIH 27 Institutes and
Centers to fund compelling research initiatives that could have
a major impact on science, but that no single institute could tackle
alone. Additional information about the NIH Roadmap can be found
Dr. Zerhouni also launched new programs to encourage high-risk
innovative research, such as the Director's Pioneer Awards and
New Innovator Awards, and focused especially on the need to support
new investigators and foster their independence. During his tenure,
Zerhouni worked to lower barriers between disciplines of science
and encourage trans-NIH collaborations. For example, he inspired
significant interdisciplinary efforts such as the NIH Strategic
Plan for Obesity Research and the Neuroscience Blueprint.
Zerhouni also led a major reform of the translational and clinical
research system in the United States. He also worked to improve
public access to scientific information. These efforts, along with
his continual advocacy for the public's investment in the NIH,
greatly contributed to Congress passing the NIH Reform Act of 2006,
which was a sign of renewed confidence in the NIH. (For more
detailed information, see a listing of key accomplishments attached
to this release.)
"I have had the privilege of leading one of the greatest institutions
in the world for six and a half years," Dr. Zerhouni said. "NIH's
strength comes from the extraordinary commitment and excellence
of its people in serving a noble mission. It also comes from the
nation's scientific community, whose discoveries alleviate the
suffering of patients throughout the world. Over the past six years,
we experienced a revolution in the biomedical sciences and I feel
fortunate to have been part of it. I will miss the NIH and all
my colleagues, not only for their friendship and support through ‘thick
and thin,' but also for their essential role in the progress we
made in advancing innovative research, fostering scientific collaboration,
supporting young scientists, and enhancing basic, translational,
and clinical research, despite great challenges."
"Elias has been a powerful voice for the medical research community
as head of the NIH. His tenure has been marked by the spirit of
collaboration, good management and transformation. The Roadmap
for Medical Research that he developed and implemented will benefit
the health of this nation for many years to come," said Secretary
of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt. "His many achievements
include promotion of genetic research, support for advances of
biodefense research and helping raise awareness of women's heart
disease. I want to thank Elias for his leadership and wish him
the best of luck as he begins this new chapter."
NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS), and is the nation's premiere biomedical research agency.
The agency has more than 18,000 employees and a fiscal year 2008
budget of $29.5 billion. It supports more than 325,000 researcher
personnel at more than 3,100 institutions throughout the United
States, and around the world.
The Office of the Director, the central office at NIH, is responsible
for setting policy for NIH, which includes 27 Institutes and Centers.
This involves planning, managing, and coordinating the programs
and activities of all NIH components. The Office of the Director
also includes program offices which are responsible for stimulating
specific areas of research throughout NIH. Additional information
is available at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers
and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic,
clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates
the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.
For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
Key Accomplishments of Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
As NIH Director, Dr. Zerhouni significantly advanced the NIH mission:
(1) to pursue fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior
of living systems, and (2) to apply that knowledge to the extension
of healthy life and the reduction of the burdens of illness and
disability. Zerhouni forged new connections between basic and clinical
research, integrating the component parts of NIH's mission to unprecedented
degrees. He also led the agency to be better prepared to meet the
public health and science needs, challenges, and opportunities
of the 21st century.
The NIH Roadmap
As NIH director, Dr. Zerhouni launched a number of far-reaching
initiatives to address the explosion of new knowledge in the
biomedical sciences and the growing challenges in public health.
In September 2003, he with the Institute and Center leadership
initiated the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a vision that
helped chart the course for the future of NIH. The NIH Roadmap
focused on a short list of compelling initiatives for the NIH
to pursue that would make a profound, measurable difference in
biomedical research. The NIH Roadmap efforts stimulated new pathways
to discovery, building research teams for the future, and re-engineering
the clinical research enterprise. The NIH Roadmap is a continuing
programmatic priority at NIH and is managed by a newly-established
Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives (OPASI).
The ongoing goal of the NIH Roadmap is to ensure that NIH is
nimble, dynamic, and responsive to emerging scientific opportunities
and public health needs.
Drawing from a "common fund" of money, NIH's 27 Institutes and
Centers collaborate on initiatives that are essential to the advancement
of biomedicine, initiatives that no single Institute or Center
are able to undertake alone. The NIH Roadmap is organized around
three themes: "New Pathways to Discovery," "Re-engineering the
Clinical Research Enterprise," and "Research Teams of the Future." Today,
initiatives within each of these themes are making significant
contributions to the science and practice of medicine. In 2006,
Congress passed the NIH Reform Act. Only the third omnibus reauthorization
in NIH's history, the Reform Act gives the NIH Roadmap, and the
Common Fund, legislative weight and continued support.
Trans-NIH Initiatives to Address Major Public Health Needs
Dr. Zerhouni also established NIH-wide research initiatives to
address major public health problems, including obesity research
and neuroscience research. Shortly after Dr. Zerhouni's arrival
in 2002, he established the NIH Obesity Research Task Force to
address one the nation's most costly and debilitating health
challenges. The task force drew representatives from 7 NIH Institutes,
Centers, and Offices and developed a strategic plan that combined
new research opportunities with the coordination of resources
across the NIH. The plan called for interdisciplinary research
teams to bridge the study of environmental and behavioral causes
with the study of genetic and biologic causes.
Dr. Zerhouni also spearheaded the NIH Neuroscience Blueprint to
(1) leverage the resources of 17 NIH Institutes and Centers, (2)
tackle common scientific problems and (3) train the future generation
of neuroscientists, all in an effort to address mental illness,
neurological disorders, and a range of behavioral disorders that
together affect millions of individuals at a yearly cost to the
U.S. of more than $500 billion.
Clinical and Translational Science Awards
In October 2006, Dr. Zerhouni launched a national consortium designed
to transform clinical and translational research. Called the
Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs), the program
represented the first systematic change in the agency's approach
to clinical research in 50 years. The consortium got underway
in with 12 sites; more were added each year with the plan of
supporting 60 such institutions by 2012. NIH began to see the
transformative effects of the program as changes occurred and
new partnerships at institutions were forged. The CTSA initiative
grew out of the NIH commitment to re-engineer the clinical research
enterprise, one of the key objectives of the NIH Roadmap for
The NIH Roadmap identified one key "new pathway": the need for
molecular libraries. The Molecular Libraries initiative resulted
in development of a nationwide consortium of 10 small molecule
screening centers; including NIH; a database, PubChem; and new
tools and technologies to better serve investigative needs. PubChem
provides free access to discoveries about the chemical structures
and biological activities of small molecules. The program was designed
to provide investigators with a comprehensive set of small molecule
modulators of a majority of the genes and functions of humans and
other organisms. The Molecular Libraries initiative is also aimed
at producing innovative chemical tools for use in biological research
and drug development. The Molecular Small Molecule Repository currently
contains over 300,000 small molecules, and the network of centers
has entered the second phase of its research agenda, focusing on
small molecule probes.
Support for High Risk/High Impact Research
During his tenure, Dr. Zerhouni also addressed the agency's continued
support of high risk/high impact research, innovation in research,
and funding for early-career investigators.
NIH Director's Pioneer Awards
Dr. Zerhouni launched the NIH Director's Pioneer Award Program
in 2004 as a high-risk research initiative. The awards are designed
to support individual scientists of exceptional creativity who
propose pioneering — and possibly transforming approaches — to major
challenges in biomedical and behavioral research. "Pioneering" refers
to highly innovative approaches with the potential of producing
an unusually high impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral
research. Awards may include grants for conducting research as
opposed to recognizing past achievement.
Pathway to Independence Awards
In January 2006, Dr. Zerhouni announced the NIH Pathway to Independence
Award program, which targeted promising postdoctoral scientists
for receipt of mentored and independent research support, both
from the same award. The program is among several initiated by
Dr. Zerhouni to support scientists at the early part of their
careers while maintaining the agency's "pipeline" of future-generation
With the program's debut, Dr. Zerhouni said, "Encouraging independent
inquiry by promising new investigators is a major goal for NIH.
We must invest in the future of our new scientists today if we
expect to meet the nation's health challenges of tomorrow. New
investigators who successfully cross the bridge from research dependence
to research independence bring fresh ideas and innovative perspectives
to the research enterprise."
NIH New Innovator Awards
In March 2007, Dr. Zerhouni announced the New Innovator Awards
Program, designed to cultivate new investigators, support innovative
ideas, and encourage and reward creativity. Under the program,
New Innovator Awardees propose bold and highly innovative research
approaches that have the potential to produce solutions for broad,
important problems in biomedical and behavioral research. The
program complements other NIH efforts to fund new investigators
through R01 grants, the original and historically oldest grant
mechanism used by NIH, and the one that continues to be the major
source of NIH support for new investigators. In 2007, thirty
new investigators were provided New Innovator Awards under the
NIH Roadmap to initiate their own new five-year research programs.
The awards provide brilliant emerging scientists with the resources,
time, and freedom to pursue creative ideas.
Transformative R01 Program
Dr. Zerhouni launched the Transformative R01 (TR01) program in
September 2008 to provide support for individual scientists or
collaborative investigative teams who propose transformative
approaches to major contemporary challenges. The primary objective
of the T-R01 initiative is to create a program that is specifically
designed to support exceptionally innovative, high risk, original
and/or unconventional research with the potential to create new
or challenge existing scientific paradigms. The program is a
High Risk/High Reward Demonstration Project with support from
the NIH Common Fund.
Human Microbiome Project
In December 2007, NIH launched the Human Microbiome Project under
Dr. Zerhouni. The human microbiome is the collective genomes
of all the microorganisms in or on the human body and is largely
unexplored. The project has the potential to transform scientific
understanding of human health and to prevent, diagnose, and treat
a wide range of conditions. The project is part of the NIH Roadmap
for Medical Research and was chosen by NIH leadership as a major
research opportunity that no single Institute or Center could
In January 2008, NIH announced a 5-year, $190 million investment
for the study of epigenomics: the analysis of epigenetic changes
across many genes in a cell or an entire organism. Epigenetics
focuses on the processes that regulate how and when certain genes
are turned on and turned off. "Epigenomics will build upon our
new knowledge of the human genome and help us better understand
the role of the environment in regulating genes that protect
our health or make us susceptible to disease," said Dr. Zerhouni
at the announcement of the program's start.
Structural Biology Roadmap
The Structural Biology Roadmap is a strategic effort to create
a comprehensive gallery of three-dimensional shapes of proteins
in the body. The program seeks to develop methods or producing
protein samples for use by scientists in determining the three-dimensional
structure or shape of a protein. During the first phase of the
Structural Biology Roadmap (FY2004-2008), the NIH funded two
Centers for Innovation in Membrane Protein Production that enabled
interdisciplinary groups of scientists to develop innovative
methods for producing large quantities of membrane proteins.
The NIH program is designed to catalyze what is currently a hit-or-miss
process into an organized, coordinated, systematic, and streamlined
routine, helping researchers clarify the role of protein shape
in health and disease. A number of small exploratory and regular
research grants were also awarded to individual investigators
to broaden the base of innovative ideas under development.
During his tenure, Dr. Zerhouni embarked on a wide array of efforts
to make NIH more responsive to changes and challenges in the
scientific landscape and more nimble as an organization. Under
Dr. Zerhouni's leadership, NIH initiated a number of important
and unprecedented programs to improve how science is conducted
and to ensure that the agency takes full advantage of the progress
made to date in improving people's health.
NIH Governance Improvement — Steering Committee
In July 2003, Dr. Zerhouni announced the formation of the NIH Steering
Committee, with a rotating membership of ten directors derived
from the 27 Institutes and Centers to provide a more strategic
direction to the agency and streamline its decision-making process.
The committee is chaired by the NIH director. As the agency had
grown in size and complexity in recent years, there had been
an increased need for a more efficient trans-NIH coordination.
The Steering Committee transformed NIH's ability to manage and
address the complex issues facing the agency.
Science Management Review Board
In September 2008, Dr. Zerhouni announced formation of the NIH
Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) as an outgrowth of
the NIH Reform Act of 2006. The SMRB brings together NIH leaders
with outside experts to examine NIH's organizational structure
and make recommendations for greater agency flexibility and responsiveness.
Efforts to Enhance the NIH Peer Review System
In June 2008, Dr. Zerhouni announced major changes to improve and
enhance the NIH peer review system, marking the end of a year-long
effort to determine ways to further enrich the traditional NIH
peer review system. NIH is now implementing the programmatic
results of Dr. Zerhouni's original charge, "to fund the best
science, by the best scientists, with the least administrative
burden." The formal review process involved consultation with
and comment from internal staff, patient groups, and the broad
scientific community, as well as analysis of thousands of comments,
feedback, and opinions about the current NIH peer review system.
Public Access to NIH-funded Published Research
In February 2005, Dr. Zerhouni announced an unprecedented policy
designed to expand and accelerate public access to published
articles resulting from NIH-funded research. The policy was the
first of its kind and called on scientists to release manuscripts
from research supported by NIH as soon as possible, and within
12 months of publication. Publications are made available in
a web-based archive managed by the National Library of Medicine.
At a time when demand for such information is on a steady rise,
the online archive increases the public's access to health-related
NIH's responded to a call by Congress and the public for enhanced
transparency and accessibility regarding disease funding by creating
the Research, Condition, and Disease Categorization (RCDC) system.
RCDC utilizes a computer-based tool that applies a uniform process
of accounting for NIH funding for diseases and conditions. The
process produces a fully transparent list of grants underlying
and supporting the dollar amounts for each reporting area. NIH
will unveil the first RCDC reports as part of the release of the
President's 2010 budget request.
Sweeping Reform of NIH Ethics
In February 2005, Dr. Zerhouni announced a set of ethics regulations
to address outside consulting between some NIH employees and
representatives of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors.
Dr. Zerhouni launched the revised rules to help NIH (1) preserve
its historic role as the primary source of unbiased scientific
health information for the country and (2) maintain the highest
ethical standards, both while sustaining the agency's ability
to support and conduct the best medical research in the world.
Public Trust Initiative
In October 2007, Dr. Zerhouni announced release of a new Request
for Applications (RFA) for the Partners in Research Program,
which supports studies of innovative ways to increase science
literacy, improve public understanding of health research, and
engage the public through community-based organizations. The
program is one of several programs initiated by NIH to maintain
and enhance public trust in medical research.
Reaching out to the Public
Under Dr. Zerhouni's leadership, NIH reached to the public in an
unprecedented way with the communication of science-based health
information and scientific results. He led efforts to make the
incomparable resources of the NIH and its grantees, resources
accessible to the public. Key to these efforts are the health
education programs across the agency. With more than 2 million
visits a day to the NIH websites, including the NIH's NLM vast
collection materials available through comprehensive clearinghouses
and #800, use of new resources of podcasting, vodcasting, Research
Matters, NIH: News in Health, YouTube, and radio resources to
reach audiences who depend upon radio more than the web, materials
for people who have challenges of literacy, language or access
were also developed. He worked closely with the Council of Public
Representatives in encouraging these efforts. In two important
messages to NIH and the public, Dr. Zerhouni encouraged open
discourse about science noting: "Timely and accurate research
results and science-based health communications are an integral
part of the NIH mission."