Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo will be the next director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday.
Marrazzo is expected to begin her role in the fall, the NIH said. She will take over from Dr. Hugh Auchincloss Jr., who has served as acting director since Dr. Anthony Fauci stepped down from the post in December.
Marrazzo is director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“This is a great opportunity for Dr. Marrazzo to make a big difference to the country, and it is indicative of the high regard that exists for both her and UAB. While we are sad to see her go, we are delighted that Jeanne has been called to this national service and we are proud to count her as one of us at UAB,” UAB President Ray Watts and Dr. Anupam Agarwal, senior vice president of medicine and dean of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, said in a joint statement on her appointment.
“Dr. Marrazzo brings a wealth of leadership experience from leading international clinical trials and translational research, managing a complex organizational budget that includes research funding and mentoring trainees in all stages of professional development,” Dr. Lawrence Tabak, acting NIH director, said in a statement. “I look forward to welcoming Dr. Marrazzo to the NIH leadership team.”
With a budget of $6.3 billion, NIAID is the second largest center at the NIH, behind the National Cancer Institute. It supports research to advance the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of infectious, immunologic and allergic diseases. The institute played a pivotal role the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the development of pathbreaking vaccines.
The NIAID supports projects at universities and research organizations around the United States as well as a network of 21 NIAID labs across the country.
Fauci said Wednesday that he was pleased that Marrazzo had been appointed to his former post. Fauci, 82, retired in December after nearly four decades as the director of NIAID and recently joined the faculty at Georgetown University.
“She’s very well-liked. She’s a really good person. I think she’s going to do a really good job. I think the people at NIAID, at least the colleagues I’ve been working with over the last decades and decades, including the almost 40 years that I’ve been the NIAID director, I think that they’re going to like her, and I think that she’s really going to like the team that’s there at NIAID. So I’m actually very pleased by the choice,” he told CNN.
Fauci cautioned that the road ahead would not be easy.
“What she’s facing now is going to be a very complicated issue of a number of emerging diseases, a high degree of advanced technology that is really an important part of the research effort on infectious diseases. Also, she’s going to be dealing with, unfortunately, as we’ve seen over the last few years, a very divisive political setting, where there’s been an unfortunate politicization of some of the science,” he said.
Fauci said that he first heard of her selection Tuesday and that he had not had the chance to speak with Marrazzo. If asked for advice, he said, he would tell her to stick to the science.
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“She may get challenged with attacks on her decisions. But she just needs to realize that she’s got to do the best she can always, always, always letting her North Star being science, evidence and integrity and honesty. When she does that, she’ll be fine,” he said.
Marrazzo is best known for her work in the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. From 2009 to 2011, Marrazzo led a large study in Africa that tested oral and vaginally applied medications for pre-exposure prevention of HIV in women. Many of the women who participated in the study were young and unmarried, and they turned out to be reluctant to use these prophylactic treatments, pointing to the need for different and more acceptable options for protection. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015.
“She’s a remarkable physician, researcher and advocate,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, interim dean of the Emory University School of Medicine and president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, or IDSA.
“She has a long history of work on on sexually transmitted infections and on HIV prevention. And she is a great listener, a great person and has a superb personality. I mean, I’m just I’m just thrilled. She is an excellent person for this job,” said Del Rio, who meets with Marrazzo regularly because she also sits on the IDSA Board of Directors.
Del Rio described Marrazzo as someone who enjoys traveling and bird watching in her leisure time and said she’s eager to get to work at NIAID.
“She loves tough challenges,” he said.