President Joe Biden announced Monday that he intends to nominate Monica Bertagnolli, who’s currently leading the National Cancer Institute, as the head of the National Institutes of Health.
If confirmed by the Senate, Bertagnolli would be the second woman to serve as NIH director since Bernadine Healy in the early 1990s under President George H.W. Bush. Bertagnolli is a surgical oncologist, cancer researcher, and physician-leader who previously taught at Harvard Medical School, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and is the first woman to serve as NCI director.
Biden said in a statement:
Dr. Bertagnolli has spent her career pioneering scientific discovery and pushing the boundaries of what is possible to improve cancer prevention and treatment for patients, and ensuring that patients in every community have access to quality care. As director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Bertagnolli has advanced my Cancer Moonshot to end cancer as we know it. She has brought together partners and resources from different sectors to launch groundbreaking efforts in cancer prevention and early detection, a national navigation program for childhood cancers and additional programs to bring clinical trials to more Americans. Dr. Bertagnolli is a world-class physician-scientist whose vision and leadership will ensure NIH continues to be an engine of innovation to improve the health of the American people.
The daughter of first-generation Italian and French Basque immigrants, Bertagnolli grew up on a ranch in southwestern Wyoming before graduating from Princeton University with an engineering degree and then going to medical school at the University of Utah. She trained in surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and was a research fellow in tumor immunology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“Her storied scientific career has advanced our nation’s understanding of diseases such as cancer and established her as one of the top scientists in the world,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “She is one of the most powerful voices in the country for cancer patients, particularly for those in rural and remote communities.”
NIH has gone through a series of leadership shifts under President Biden, who initially stuck with Francis Collins as NIH director but then Collins stepped down in Dec. 2021, after more than 12 years at the helm of the institutes. During his 12 years, NIH’s budget grew by 38%, from $30 billion in 2009 to $41.3 billion in 2021. But House Republicans are now threatening to slash that budget, as Lawrence Tabak has sought to keep the ship afloat as acting NIH director since Collins stepped down.
“Dr. Bertagnolli is a physician-scientist and a patient herself, and deeply understands the intricacies and personal impact of biomedical research,” Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, said in a statement. “In a short period of time, she has proven her leadership at the NCI, and I have no doubt she will do the same at the helm of NIH.”
The American Association for Cancer Research and American Society of Clinical Oncology (where Bertagnolli formerly served as president) both endorsed her nomination.