National Institutes of Health Deputy Director Raynard Kington is stepping down in late July to become president of Grinnell College in Iowa, NIH Director Francis Collins announced today. Kington came to NIH a decade ago to be director of NIH's behavioral sciences office and was named acting director after Elias Zerhouni resigned in October 2008. He returned to the deputy position when Collins took the helm in August 2009.
A physician with a Ph.D. in health policy and economics, Kington was an unfamiliar face to most biomedical researchers when Zerhouni chose him to be deputy director in 2003. As NIH's chief ethics officer, he played the role of bad cop after a scandal erupted over industry consulting by NIH intramural scientists. In the resulting crackdown on consulting and stock ownership, Kington was pulled in different directions by Congress, the Bush Administration, and NIH scientists. "It was a no-win situation," says Alan Schechter, a basic researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, who helped lead a protest against the rules. In the end, NIH slightly relaxed the rules, but many scientists still consider them extreme.
In the past year, Kington has been NIH's point person on a move to apply tighter conflict-of-interest rules for extramural grantees. As acting director he also faced another daunting, though more enjoyable task: Doling out $10.4 billion that NIH received in the economic stimulus package in 9 months on top of its annual $30 billion budget.
"He had a very tough job and he learned over time. By the last 2 or 3 years he was widely respected," says Schechter. Ann Bonham, chief scientific officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, praises Kington's efforts to share information with university leaders in the course of disbursing the stimulus money. "He handled that magnificently," Bonham says. "He created a calming influence during a trying time."
In an e-mail to senior staff members, Collins called Kington "an 'unsung hero' of the NIH. Many aren't even aware of the innumerable battles he fought on behalf of our agency, on behalf of our staff, and in defense of science. Raynard's modest and self-effacing manner belies a lion-hearted champion of the NIH mission."