It’s official: President Joe Biden wants cancer researcher Monica Bertagnolli to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Nearly a month after the media widely reported she was the White House’s choice to succeed Francis Collins as chief of the world’s largest biomedical research agency, Biden today announced Bertagnolli’s nomination, lauding her for “pushing the boundaries of what is possible to improve cancer prevention and treatment for patients.” She was chief of surgical oncology at the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center before Biden appointed her as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in August 2022. And last month, Bertagnolli rolled out a 25-page update of NCI’s plans to implement Biden’s signature Cancer Moonshot initiative, designed to cut the U.S. death rate from cancer by 50% by 2050.
The U.S. research community was quick to praise Biden’s move to fill the NIH slot, which has been vacant since December 2021. “At this critical time for innovation at the NIH, Dr. Bertagnolli will be the visionary leader we need,” said Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of Friends of Cancer Research. “Simply put, Dr. Bertagnolli is the director NIH needs now,” says Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS, which publishes Science.
Bertagnolli, who was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after taking the helm at NCI, needs to be confirmed by the Senate before she can become NIH’s 17th director. (The NCI director job doesn’t require Senate approval.) She is not seen as a controversial choice, but she’s expected to be grilled by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on NIH’s role on issues that energize both liberal and conservative lawmakers.
From Republicans will come questions on the theory that the virus causing COVID-19 originated from a lab leak in China and that NIH funded work there to make it more deadly. The panel’s chair, Senator Bernie Sanders (I–VT), is all but certain to ask her what NIH can do to lower drug prices.
Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate, so biomedical lobbyists expect her to be confirmed. But a busy legislative calendar and a summer recess could delay a final vote until the fall.