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Trump to keep NIH chief for now, but not FDA, CDC heads

Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, is among at least 50 politically appointed officials from the Obama administration who will stay at their posts, for the time being, as Donald Trump assumes command as the 45th president.

"Dr. Collins has been held over by the Trump administration," Renate Myles, chief of the NIH's news media branch, told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Officials declined to comment on whether Trump will retain Collins for the entirety of the new administration's four-year term.

Trump, however, is not keeping Obama's chiefs at the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Califf and Tom Frieden, respectively.

Instead, both of those agencies will be run by acting heads — Stephen Ostroff, the deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine and the agency's former chief scientist at the FDA, and Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director.

It will be Ostroff's second round as acting commissioner. He served in that position from April 2015, when Obama's first FDA commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, departed, to February 2016, when Califf took control of the agency.

Trump is considering technology venture capitalists Balaji Srinivasan, CEO and co-founder of the bitcoin firm 21.co, and Jim O'Neill, managing director of Mithril Capital Management, for positions at the FDA, Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, told reporters on Jan. 12.

It is not clear, however, if Srinivasan and O'Neill are in line for the top job at the FDA.

Scott Gottlieb, a physician and a resident fellow at the Washington think tank American Enterprise Institute, has been expected by industry leaders to run the agency. Gottlieb served as deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs at the FDA from 2005 to 2007.

Trump has not yet hinted about who he wants to head the CDC.

The temporary chief, Schuchat, has been with the agency for almost 30 years. As the former director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Schuchat often was the official called on to explain the necessity of why Americans need to be immunized against the flu or why the nation in 2015 should have been concerned and watchful about Ebola, but not panicked.

At a Jan. 10 forum hosted by Georgetown University, infectious disease experts said it will be critical for Trump to have a permanent CDC director in place to handle the next public health crisis facing the nation — an event they said is sure to happen.

For his part, Collins has held the top job at NIH since August 2009. Prior to leading the agency, he served as the director of the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute, where he headed the U.S. government's effort on the Human Genome Project, an international research endeavor to sequence and map all genes.

Trump sat down with Collins for the first time on Jan. 11 in New York.

Collins told S&P Global Market Intelligence in an interview last month that if Trump asked, he would stay at the NIH, the largest biomedical research organization in the world.

But others may be contending for his job. Trump met at least twice in the past couple of months with biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, chairman and CEO of NantKwest and NantHealth. Trump also met with Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, a physician, on the same day he chatted with Collins, whose continuance at the NIH has been backed by several lawmakers.

Keeping Collins at the NIH will ensure there is continuity with the agency's ongoing research projects in cancer, precision medicine and the brain, said Suzanne Ffolkes, vice president of communications at Research!America, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy group.

In addition to the 50 Obama administration officials, Spicer told reporters Jan. 19 the Trump administration is expected to have 536 temporary political appointees, known as beachheads, placed into federal agencies and departments throughout the government.

The beachheads will ensure there is continuity of government during the first few months of the Trump administration until permanent appointments are made and cabinet chiefs are confirmed, he said.

"Make no mistake, we are ready to go on day one," Spicer said.