A Harvard-trained physician and neurogeneticist with a boyish grin who worked in industry for seven years before moving to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will head the biomedical agency’s fledgling translational medicine centre, agency director Francis Collins announced this morning.
Christopher Austin, who will take the reins at the $575 million National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) on 23 September — the day he turns 52 — has headed NCATS’ pre-clinical innovation efforts since the centre’s inception last December.
Austin has worked in translational medicine efforts at NIH since 2002, directing its Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases programme, founding its molecular libraries initiative and heading the NIH Chemical Genomics Center (NCGC). The centre, now part of NCATS, uses high-end instrumentation to help develop molecular probes with the goal of hastening drug discovery. Prior to his time at NIH he worked for the pharmaceutical giant Merck at the company’s West Point, Pennsylvania facility in a number of roles. His research there was on genome-based efforts to discover new molecular targets and drugs.
Austin’s combined experience, Collins told the inaugural meeting of NCATS’ Advisory Council today, “make[s] him an ideal candidate to lead NCATS into the future.”
“This is a really hard, ambitious but deeply important mission we’re all on,” Austin told the council, joking that his experience as a hurdler in high school track may prove useful as NCATS seeks to tackle obstacles to the timely and affordable development of new drugs.