President Biden said Monday he will nominate prominent cancer researcher Dr. Monica Bertagnolli to lead the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest biomedical research agency.
She impressed Mr. Biden as the director of the National Cancer Institute and is a patient herself, having announced last year that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“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,” Mr. Biden said.
Dr. Bertagnolli will require Senate approval as permanent director of NIH, which is composed of 27 centers that each have a specific research agenda.
She would be filling big shoes: Dr. Francis Collins served as NIH director for 12 years under three presidents before stepping aside in December.
Right now, the NIH is being led by Dr. Lawrence Tabak, whose title is “the senior official performing the duties of NIH director.”
The NIH took on a prominent role during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci of its infectious diseases branch served as a prominent face of the U.S. response. The NIH’s decision to fund grant partners who worked on coronaviruses at a Wuhan lab sparked intense scrutiny.
The NIH generally enjoys bipartisan support, however, and appropriators have been willing to give it funding increases to explore vaccines for emerging diseases and cures to conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Bertagnolli, a surgical oncologist by training, gained White House notice by serving as a key figure in Mr. Biden’s Cancer Moonshot project to “end cancer as we know it.”
The issue is personal to Mr. Biden, whose son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015.
“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 president said.
She said she is receiving her own cancer care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she worked before her government role.
“Dr. Bertagnolli is a physician-scientist and a patient herself, and deeply understands the intricacies and personal impact of biomedical research,” said Ellen Sigal, chairwoman and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, an organization that promotes new therapies and policies for cancer patients. “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.”