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Influencers Transcript: Dr. Francis Collins, February 6, 2020

·31 min read

ANDY SERWER: Today's influencer is fighting a global health emergency right now. Francis Collins leads the National Institutes of Health, the biggest funder of medical research in the world, with a budget of $42 billion.

So far, his tenure has spanned 11 years and two presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Instrumental in mapping the human genome, Collins has since driven groundbreaking research on the link between DNA and disease. He's here to talk about the coronavirus, how dangerous it truly is, and what the world can do to stop it.

Hello, and welcome to "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. And welcome to our guest, Dr. Francis Collins, who is the director of the National Institutes of Health here in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Collins, nice to see you.

FRANCIS COLLINS: Nice to be with you, Andy.

ANDY SERWER: So I want to ask you all manner of questions about your work. But I think we really need to start off with the coronavirus. And I guess the first question is, how concerned should Americans be about the coronavirus?

FRANCIS COLLINS: I think, at the present time, there's no reason for considerable anxiety in America because we still have less than a dozen cases in our country. The concern, of course, is in China, where this is spreading very rapidly.

It is impossible to say, however, exactly what the next few weeks will hold for America. We're doing rather extreme measures to try to isolate individuals who are coming from China, and make sure that those who are already identified as infected are not infecting others. And everybody hopes that will be sufficient, just really solid quarantining measures.

But the time will-- really really important over the next three or four weeks to see whether that holds up or not. At the present time, as of right now, I think Americans ought to be a lot more worried about the flu than they are about coronavirus. 10,000 people have died of the flu this year in the United States. Zero people have died of coronavirus in the United States so far this year. So think about that. And if you haven't got your flu shot already, it's not too late.

ANDY SERWER: But of course, the coronavirus is grabbing all the attention and all the headlines, because it's new and it's unprecedented, and we haven't figured out how to solve the problem, right? And how much worse is it going to get before it gets better? What is the rate of infection or growth right now?

FRANCIS COLLINS: If you track the number of diagnoses worldwide, it is going up very steeply, now more than 20,000 individuals diagnosed with this virus, almost all of them in China, but a smattering in other countries of the world. The death rate is about 2% to 2.5%, which is, of course, very troubling. That's more than 400 people who've lost their lives to this, almost all of them in China.

That compares, though, with other kinds of coronavirus, SARS, those of us who've been around a while remember that. The death rate was higher for SARS, it was about 10%. Or MERS, another version of a coronavirus in the Middle East, which had a death rate maybe as high as 30%. So the bad news is this one spreads very rapidly. It's clearly transmitted from person to person, probably even when people aren't even symptomatic. The good news is its lethality seems to be a lot lower than SARS or MERS.

ANDY SERWER: Do you expect more cases here in the United States before the disease is contained?

FRANCIS COLLINS: I'd be very surprised if 11 is the total that we're going to have. I mean, there are people right now being investigated, most of them people who have been to China and are back, and maybe starting to feel poorly. Most of those will turn out to be something else. But there will be potentially other cases.

Again, I think our country is poised to jump on those situations quite quickly to make sure those individuals don't infect others. You may know people who are coming back from China who are American citizens who have been in the Huawei province where the greatest number of cases are, are being forcefully quarantined for a period of two weeks in order to be sure that they don't get out there in the community and spread what might have infected them.

ANDY SERWER: Is that the right thing for the government to be doing?

FRANCIS COLLINS: There are different opinions about exactly how helpful it is to do this very stringent kind of quarantining. The World Health Organization has not been a big fan of this. Our government, based upon the best evidence from the CDC and from experts at NIH, like Tony Fauci, have concluded that this is such a rapidly spreading viral infection that we need to do something pretty extreme. And I think it is the right thing to do while we try to get our hands around what's really happening here. And let's hope it works.

ANDY SERWER: Tony Fauci and others have been out there giving interviews and trying to allay fears, and just give information. What else does the NIH do in a situation like this?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, one of the things we do, because we're a research organization, is to try to quickly identify what kind of interventions can help. Obviously, there are questions about, are there any antiviral agents that would work against this coronavirus? We really don't know. We've only had access to the virus very recently to see whether any of the compounds that were developed for other purposes might work here.

There are some attempts. There's a drug called remdesivir, which was tried for Ebola and is now being tried in China to see if it might work against coronavirus. But it's early days to assess that.

The other thing we're very into is developing a vaccine. And that's already started, started within days of the recognition that we had a real issue here. In our instance, that's a collaboration with a company called Moderna, and also supported by a worldwide effort called CEPI, bringing all these partnerships together.

And if it works, this will be a world record for the development of a vaccine in the shortest time ever. But it will still be three months before this is going into patients as part of a first clinical trial, and probably a year before you had a fully available set of millions of doses if this were needed. So one should not count on the vaccine right now.

ANDY SERWER: Not for a year perhaps.

FRANCIS COLLINS: Not for a year.

ANDY SERWER: And are you working on that vaccine right here in Bethesda?

FRANCIS COLLINS: We are. The Vaccine Research Center, which is only 100 yards from here, is a central part of developing that vaccine. It's a very high tech approach, where you're not actually growing the virus, you actually have information about its DNA or its actually RNA sequence. And from that, you make something that can be injected into a muscle, and the muscle will then make one of the viral proteins-- not the whole thing, just a little piece of it-- that the immune system will look at and go, oh no, you don't, and make an antibody.

It's very much in the forefront of what's possible, but we believe it will work in this situation, and it would be the fastest way you can get to a vaccine at a time like this.

ANDY SERWER: It sounds like you're being briefed on it pretty regularly. Is that the case?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, as the director of the NIH, whenever there is something that emerges that is really an intensely important set of research questions, I'm in the middle of that. That's part of my job Dr. Fauci and I are probably communicating several times a day right now about exactly where we are and what we're doing.

ANDY SERWER: And how often do you brief say, the Whitehouse? Do they reach out to you and Dr. Fauci about the progress that you're making?

FRANCIS COLLINS: They do indeed. Dr. Fauci is part of the White House team now that is assembled to look at coronavirus, chaired by Secretary Azar, who's my boss as well. And they're spending 24/7 looking at all the issues. The CDC is a big part of this. The Homeland Security people are trying to figure out exactly what's the best way to protect the American public.

ANDY SERWER: And how do you work with the CDC and maybe other entities when it comes to something like this?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, I'd want to reassure people who think that governments are just often their separate silos and don't work together. That actually NIH and CDC have worked closely together for decades, probably more so now than ever. Bob Redfield, who's the head of the CDC, and I, actually jointly lead a leadership council where we bring together the leadership of both of our agencies to be sure that we're identifying ways that we could work even more collaboratively.

But in a time like this, all the way up and down the ladder of expertise, there are longstanding relationships between our scientists and theirs. So we could kick into action very quickly. We know each other. We know the technology. We've been to this movie before. We know what has to be done.

ANDY SERWER: I know you said that Americans should probably worry more about the flu virus and get a flu shot. But is there anything, Dr. Collins, that Americans should do about the coronavirus? Any way they should change their behavior?

FRANCIS COLLINS: I think for the average American there's nothing one needs to do. I think we all need to be vigilant about any indication of a travel of individuals from the area where the disease has been most prominent, which is particularly Wuhan, China, but also the surrounding provinces. And if there are individuals who might have been exposed in that situation, to be sure that the information from the CDC is available about what needs to happen as far as monitoring. Some of those folks can just be self monitored. Some of them, if they've recently arrived and are an American citizen, as I've said, probably need to be quarantine in a very official way.

But those guidelines are there from CDC. Anybody who has concern ought to go to the CDC website, read those carefully and figure out what needs to be done. But for most of us I think we can go about living our lives, worrying about our friends and colleagues in other parts of the world, particularly China, who are facing an almost unprecedented speed of the outbreak of this particular virus.

ANDY SERWER: We don't need to wear masks, necessarily. I mean, there's been a run on masks. You can't buy them in stores and even online in many instances.

FRANCIS COLLINS: There has been.

ANDY SERWER: Do they work also?

FRANCIS COLLINS: You know, masks are variable in their effectiveness. As much as people would like to believe that that's blocking any virus from getting in, you're actually breathing around the outside of the mask most of the time. So the protection there is really pretty limited. I would especially think, for people here in this country, who are unlikely to be in a circumstance where they're exposed to the coronavirus, buying a mask isn't necessary.

Again, think more about the flu. And by the way, if somebody has symptoms of the flu, they ought not to be coming to work and spreading it around to the rest of their colleagues. Once you have this, this is a good time to stay at home until you're fever-free for at least 48 hours.

ANDY SERWER: And what about the World Health Organization? How do they factor into the work that you do?

FRANCIS COLLINS: The World Health Organization is the entity that has the responsibility for the whole planet in a situation like this, and they have representation from all the countries of the world. That's challenging because that means they have to answer to all of those countries. But certainly, the director general, Dr. Ted Rose, has been deeply engaged in this, as he was and still is with Ebola, trying to pull together all the resources, all the advice, make the right decisions, make the ride recommendations.

As you know, they did declare this as a public health emergency of international concern last week, a little later than some people thought they would, but they did. And that has a lot of consequences for how all the countries of the world now need to address this problem.

ANDY SERWER: Would you characterize this as a pandemic? And what is the definition of a pandemic then?

FRANCIS COLLINS: It's a little loose. Most people would say a pandemic is when you have an uncontrolled outbreak in more than one continent. OK, we've got one continent where there is an uncontrolled outbreak, namely Asia. We don't yet have a second continent where you could say that that has happened. As we watch over the next few weeks, that might potentially happen. If you ask me, a continent I'm particularly worried about is Africa. There's not the resources there to discover whether somebody actually has been infected and to make sure that they get isolated because the test that's necessary is pretty sophisticated.

And there is a lot of people going back and forth between China and Africa. So all of us watching this have to worry, particularly, about the east part of Africa, where there's a lot of travel.

ANDY SERWER: Where do these new diseases come from, Dr. Collins. And we've got this coronavirus. We talked about SARS, MERS, Ebola. They seem to be coming up, and they're very disconcerting. Is there anything that we can do about them? Are there more of them now than there were we were young?

FRANCIS COLLINS: There are more than we know about. It's certainly possible there were examples like that that we never really figured out before. Our technology is a lot better. These would be called zoonosis, that is, things that come from animal exposure. So all of these coronaviruses that we know about, SARS, MERS, and now this one, have arrived in the human host from some animal source.

If you look at the current coronavirus and say, what is it closest to in terms of its instruction book, its RNA sequence? Its 96% the same as a coronavirus isolated from a bat in a cave in China several years ago. Now, did it come directly from a bat to a human? Did it travel through some other host along the way? We don't know the answer to that. But as humans are more and more populous and more and more interacting with animals in the wild, and of course, in China, there are markets where that happens a lot, we are going to keep seeing this happen.

Influenza, same thing. The next big epidemic of influenza we really worry about might come from birds, or it might come from other animals. This is one of the consequences of our success as a population, of being everywhere at all times and interacting with all kinds of other species. And these viruses, because we are related to those animals, figure out how they can infect not just the animals but us, too.

ANDY SERWER: Are the Chinese to blame for that market that we've read about in Wuhan? Is that really the problem?

FRANCIS COLLINS: I think a lot of people leap to the conclusion that it was the market that was the source of this. I don't think we really know that. There is some evidence that this virus might have been in a few people in China before the initial cases were identified in people who had been to the market. Let's sort of keep an open mind to that. There's a lot of detective work yet to do.

ANDY SERWER: And what about the Chinese government's response to this crisis, I think, it's not too strong a word to use? How would you assess that?

FRANCIS COLLINS: You know, the Chinese were very much criticized after the SARS epidemic because that clearly was kept under wraps for quite a long time, and only when it was really quite syringe, did it begin to become clear. I think they tried much harder this time not to have that be the case. And so it was to their credit possible for the actual RNA sequence of this virus to be made public within only two or three weeks after the initial reports.

There have been concerns that other aspects of how this was handled, both locally and maybe on a national level, were more of a tendency to try to keep people calm and therefore not to tell the whole story about what was happening. I'm not in a good position to judge that. I think right now everything should be done on our part and the part of WHO and the other countries of the world to say, this is a public health crisis, let's work together. That means we all have to be open with each other. I think that's where we need to be.

ANDY SERWER: Are you concerned about the spread of misinformation when it comes to coronavirus? And there's been talk of Facebook and Google having to address that on their platforms.

FRANCIS COLLINS: Yeah, I see this because I'm watching what's happening in social media, not just in the reputable sources of journalism. And there is an absolute flurry of crazy things being put forward in terms of what started this.

ANDY SERWER: What are some of the--

FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, some of it that it was actually a human-created weapon that was spilling out of a bio weapons laboratory in China. Various things about how it could be easily cured with things that would be totally bogus. There is a published paper that says it has sequences in it that resemble HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and somebody must have done that on purpose. That paper had to be withdrawn.

So yes, we seem to be in an era, particularly in our culture in this country, that loves conspiracy theories. And this is a wonderful opportunity for those to flourish, to the detriment of people who are really looking for facts.

ANDY SERWER: When health care officials like yourself make decisions about, say, quarantining people or closing certain areas, do they take the economic impact of that into consideration?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, I don't have to make those decisions, but I have seen the people who do. And I think they do consider that at some level. But the first priority has to be human health. Are we going to actually make a decision that saves lives? Are we going to make a wrong decision in the name of trying to keep the economy going and actually hurt people or even cause loss of life? Loss of life, that's just not acceptable. If you have a choice, it seems you've got to do the thing that is going to protect people from a terrible disease. And I think that's what they're doing, admittedly, with economic consequences.

ANDY SERWER: And you're seeing companies, particularly in China at this point, shutting down Western companies, say McDonald's and Starbucks and Levi's. Is that the right decision?

FRANCIS COLLINS: I think they're looking at their business situation and figuring that not to shut down is probably going to cost them even more, because nobody is going to be able to come to their facilities. I mean, big parts of China are very much now having a circumstance where everybody's hunkered down at home, not wanting to be out in public. So it's rather I think unavoidable at that point that businesses are going to have to adjust, hopefully temporarily, with what they're able to offer.

ANDY SERWER: And finally, about the coronavirus, is this anything, Dr. Collins, that you saw coming? I mean, we talked about these viruses that are more prevalent perhaps because of changes in behavior or more population. Should we be expecting more of them in the coming years?

FRANCIS COLLINS: I'm afraid we probably should. Everybody who looked at the history of SARS and MERS said, we're probably not done with coronavirus. There's a huge inventory of potential there that's lurking in bats and civets and other animals. And it's only a matter of time until one of them jumps into us. We've just had the experience again with Ebola, another example where it's a virus that lives primarily in other species, probably bats, and finds its way into humans.

The big one that I thought might have happened by now and could, of course, happen tomorrow, is influenza. We get so used to influenza maybe that we think, well, you know, we'll get through that one. But turn back the clock 100 years to 1918, where an influenza strain arose that was significantly different and to which people really didn't have immunity, and that happened to be very transmissible and very potentially fatal. And 50 million people died.

ANDY SERWER: Out of a much smaller global population.

FRANCIS COLLINS: Out of a much smaller global population. We are not in a circumstance right now to say that could not happen. I will tell you we are working intensively here at NIH on developing a vaccine that would protect against that. And a universal flu vaccine meant you wouldn't have to get your shot every year because the flu virus keeps changing. You'd have a vaccine that would get all those flu viruses, the seasonal one and, also, the next pandemic that we're most afraid of. But we're probably about five years away from that.

ANDY SERWER: Wow, that's really possible? I mean, that's incredible news.

FRANCIS COLLINS: It's possible. You can see the steps, and we're well along with testing them. There are already people in clinical trials who've been injected with a test influenza vaccine that ought to cover all the strains.

ANDY SERWER: But aren't flu shots getting weaker right now? You know, you hear that. You get a flu shot, you still get the flu, right?

FRANCIS COLLINS: You know, it comes, it goes. Every year, we try to make a bet about which flu virus is going to be the one in that season. And so you try to put into the vaccine what you think are going to be the most appropriate ones. But then doesn't always happen that way. This year, there's a lot of influenza B, which nobody quite expected. And the virus is mostly against influenza A. So it's not going to be a great year for vaccine performance.

It's still a lot better than nothing. So if anybody's listening to this and doesn't have the flu shot yet, it's not too late. Even if you have the flu shot and you get the flu anyway, you're likely to have a much milder case and you're much less likely to die.

ANDY SERWER: Let me ask you about vaccines because there are people who don't believe in them and have spread a lot of information, anti-vaxxers, some people call them. It's a rising trend. Is this something that concerns you?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Deeply concerns me and puzzles me. I think anybody who knows the history of how the illnesses for which we now have vaccines have killed so many people, including many, many children, you just wonder how could we take one of the greatest advances of human biomedical research and decide that I don't want to use that on my child. I think it is a matter of some complacency, that people who are saying their children don't need vaccines have never seen a child die of measles, and they don't recognize that this is not a trivial illness.

It's also, I think, a general consequence of the way in which people get medical information. We talked earlier about all the ways that social media can be a boon, but also can be full of inadequate information. The anti-vaxxers are really good at using social media. They sometimes run circles around us at NIH and at CDC because of the way in which they can quickly spread information that sounds really quite terrifying and cause parents to begin to question whether their children should have that measles vaccine.

The whole eruption about whether the measles vaccine causes autism started on the basis of an entirely fraudulent publication, which was admitted later to be fraudulent and has been retracted. But you can't seem to get that rumor put to bed even now, more than 20 years later, after hundreds of thousands of children have been carefully studied and that consequence of autism has been thoroughly debunked. And yet how many people out there are still worried about it? Once you start down that road--

So, as a result, we're seeing now a resurgence of measles in this country. We're likely maybe to see the end of US claim of having actually ended measles because we're not ending it, not when so many are refusing vaccines and we've lost the herd immunity. And we will see children, if something doesn't happen, die in this country of a preventable disease called measles because of this resistance. It's heartbreaking.

ANDY SERWER: You grew up in Staunton, Virginia.

FRANCIS COLLINS: I did.

ANDY SERWER: And went to UVA and Yale and USC, medical doctor, geneticist. Did you ever expect to be the head of NIH?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Absolutely not.

ANDY SERWER: Not a dream as a child?

FRANCIS COLLINS: No. I wanted to be a truck driver. And then, after that, I wanted to be a chemist. And then, eventually, I wanted to be an academic researcher in medicine, taking care of patients, teaching medical students, and running a research lab. Did not expect to be called upon to come to NIH, initially to run the Human Genome Project. And then, over the last 10 and 1/2 years, to be the director. That was not part of the life plan. But it's been an incredible privilege.

ANDY SERWER: And you are someone who's been in public service both during the Obama administration and now the Trump administration, one of the few people who's done both administrations. How have you managed to do that?

FRANCIS COLLINS: I think that's a reflection of the fact that medical research is one of those last remaining topics that is not partisan. It doesn't get caught up in political battles. It's not so affected by polarization. Everybody is interested in seeing something done to prevent or treat a terrible disease that might affect them, or their children, or their parents, or their loved ones, or their constituents.

And so if you look at the support for medical research in the Congress of the United States, it is just as strong in the Republican Party as the Democratic Party. It's just as strong in the Senate as in the House. And so I am, I guess, fortunate to be in this situation, as a presidential appointee, but not really with a political agenda. And that is a wonderful gift to me because a lot of the other things that are happening in this town are pretty hard to watch.

ANDY SERWER: And what is your agenda here, Dr. Collins? I mean, what do you hope to do at NIH?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, I have the privilege of sitting atop the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, a current budget of $42 billion from the taxpayers, who trust me and all the wonderful people who work here to try to invest every one of those dollars in finding answers to diseases that we currently don't know what to do for, at least don't do it effectively enough.

So my job is to look across that whole landscape of medical research opportunity and try to be sure we're making the best investments in the brightest minds. We want really all of those bright talents to come and be part of this. And on the projects where we most need answers. Right now, we've been talking about coronavirus. We'll be putting a lot of resources into that right now with this crisis upon us.

But we're investing in cancer immunotherapy to try to come up with new strategies for people with that terrible disease. We have big advances right now in gene therapy. We're curing sickle cell disease, which I would not have believed I could have said five years ago. And yet here it is.

So it's always a matter of identifying the priorities and trying to be sure we're responding in a nimble fashion to supporting those. And holding ourselves accountable, and recognizing that we can't just do the obvious things. We need to do things that are high risk but high reward. So we're going to fail sometimes, but we should do so with a fashion where we learn from those failures.

I think the NIH has been a remarkable success story when you look at what's happened with human longevity and with extension of lives and saving of lives. But we're not done yet. We're on this remarkable rising curve of discovery, coming out of lots of new technologies, from things like the Genome Project, neuroscience and so on. We need to cure Alzheimer's disease. We have all these dreams and hopes. We are in the right place to do that.

ANDY SERWER: It is a broad purview. And you mentioned genomics. You recently came out in support of a five year moratorium on gene editing--

FRANCIS COLLINS: I did.

ANDY SERWER: --with tools like CRISPR. And why, why is that?

FRANCIS COLLINS: This is a really fundamentally important bioethical issue, probably the most significant one of our era. We have, just in the last few years, developed efficient ways to modify the DNA instruction book of any cell, human cells, even including an embryo. Are we ready to go there? Do we think that we have enough information about safety to be able to modify our own instruction book? Do you think that we're at the point where we know enough about what it means to be a human to start to change that? Are we stepping into territory that's philosophically and theologically fraught with all kinds of potential downsides?

And furthermore, there's no medically compelling reason that we need to do this right now for modifying embryos. So it seems, to many of us, that it's not the time to do that, although a scientist in China did a rogue experiment accomplishing just those things and has now been jailed as a result. Don't get me wrong, gene editing as a strategy to cure some terrible diseases is incredibly exciting. But you don't need to modify the embryo to do that.

Take sickle cell disease. Use the gene editor in their bone marrow so that they start making red cells that don't form sickle shapes. We can do that. We are doing that. That is not an ethically challenging thing to do anymore than what we've been doing, say, with a transplant. But modifying the embryo, the germline, the heredity part of the genome? That is a profoundly significant line, and I do not think we're ready to cross it.

ANDY SERWER: And shifting gears, but still in your purview, weed. I know you've recently said that more work needs to be done. You have a marijuana farm, not you personally, but the government does down in Mississippi.

FRANCIS COLLINS: Yes, we do.

ANDY SERWER: There's a strain of marijuana that may not reflect the marijuana that people are ingesting around the country. So what is your take on that?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, it is disturbing, frankly, to see that marijuana has gone from being a substance that a lot of people were worried about in terms of its impact on human health to being rapidly embraced in many states as just something of recreational interest and maybe some medicinal value as well.

We know so little about this. There is not a single instance of an absolutely clear cut benefit of smoked marijuana for anything. And a lot of the problem is that every marijuana plant's a little different. If you really wanted to do a rigorous study of medical value, you'd need to use the purified substances in that plant, particularly THC and CBD. But those studies haven't been done either.

I deeply am concerned about marijuana and the developing brain, and that includes pregnant women who should not be smoking marijuana. We don't know what that does to the fetus brain. That's probably not good. And it certainly includes adolescents who now have increasingly wide access to that. And we do know that, over the course of time, heavy ingestion of marijuana does affect brain development and probably causes IQ points to be lost irreversibly.

So the idea that this is not something to take too seriously, that doesn't fit with where we are in terms of the knowledge of the medical consequences, and we at NIH feel like there's a lot we need to do there. It's hard because marijuana is classified in a way that only those plants from our farm can be used in research. We don't think they're probably very representative. That paperwork involved is massively complicated. We need a more facile way to do the research and get answers to these questions.

ANDY SERWER: And finally, Dr. Collins, this program is called "Influencers". And so I'm wondering if you've given any consideration into how you see yourself using your influence on this planet?

FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, I've been fortunate to be put in a position where my thoughts about medical research can have consequences. I pull together the 27 leaders of our institutes and centers once a week and we talk about the direction that science needs to go. If there's an idea that comes out of that, we can build a collaboration, like we're doing right now with the Gates Foundation to figure out how to cure sickle cell disease in Africa. I can pursue that. So I'm an influencer mostly just by identifying scientific opportunities.

I hope I'm doing something to get the word out there, particularly to young people, about why this is such an exciting time scientifically. So I hope people who are watching this, if they're not already, my Twitter followers, that would be @NIHdirector, they could join the 108,000 others who hear from me every Tuesday and Thursday about some exciting new development that's happened scientifically. And that will point them to my blog, which is also there, which tries to go through, why is this new thing so exciting? And in a fashion that would be easily interpretable to somebody who's not a scientist.

And I do a lot of talks where I go around and try to excite the next generation. That's my passion, is to be sure that those who are just coming up and thinking about, what do I want to do with my life, and maybe have a little interest in science, they would see that, right now, life science is in its golden era. You'd want to be part of that. You'd want to be making those discoveries, being part of that revolution. This is the century of biology.

ANDY SERWER: Exciting stuff. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, thank you so much for your time.

FRANCIS COLLINS: Thank you. Nice to talk to you.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.