Washington Update

President Nominates Cancer Surgeon as Next NIH Director

By: Jennifer Zeitzer
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
On May 15, President Biden announced he would nominate Monica Bertagnolli, MD, as the 17th director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Bertagnolli will replace Francis Collins, MD, PhD, who stepped down as director in December 2021. The White House sent Bertagnolli’s nomination to the Senate the same day as the announcement. 

FASEB issued a statement which applauded the nomination, noted that her distinguished career as a physician/scientist will be an invaluable asset to NIH and the entire biomedical research community, and urged the Senate to confirm Bertagnolli without delay. A White House press release summarizing stakeholder support for the nomination highlighted the FASEB statement, among others. 

Bertagnolli is currently director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at NIH, having been selected for that role by President Biden in August 2022. She is the 16th NCI director and the first woman to serve in that position. At NCI, Bertagnolli spearheaded the development of the National Cancer Plan that was released in early April. Late last year, Bertagnolli publicly announced that she had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and would be undergoing treatment. 

Prior to being appointed NCI Director, Bertagnolli was the Richard E. Wilson Professor of Surgery in the field of surgical oncology at Harvard Medical School and a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She was a member of the Gastrointestinal Cancer and Sarcoma Disease Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, served as an associate surgeon at the Strang Cancer Prevention Institute in New York, and as an attending surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. She is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine, past president and chair of the Board of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and previously served on the American Cancer Society Board of Directors. 

Bertagnolli has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree from Princeton and an MD from the University of Utah School of Medicine. Her specialty is treating gastrointestinal cancers. As the president noted in his statement announcing her nomination, “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.”

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will consider Bertagnolli’s nomination. No date has been set for the confirmation hearings. Bertagnolli will likely face tough questioning from HELP Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who previously said in a letter to Biden that he “will strongly oppose any future nominee to a major federal health agency who is not prepared to significantly lower the price of prescription drugs in this country.”