Biden Chooses Monica Bertagnolli to Lead NIH

President Biden announced on Monday that he would nominate Dr. Monica M. Bertagnolli, a cancer surgeon who became the director of the National Cancer Institute in October, to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health, filling a position that has been vacant for more than a year.

Dr. Bertagnolli is also a cancer patient. She announced late last year that she had received a diagnosis of early breast cancer.

In a statement, Mr. Biden called her a “world-class physician-scientist” who had “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.”

Dr. Bertagnolli, 64, will need to be confirmed by the Senate. She is the first female director of the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. She would be only the second woman to lead the N.I.H. on a permanent basis.

For Mr. Biden, cancer research is deeply personal. His elder son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46. Last year, the president set a goal of reducing the death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years — part of an effort, he said then, to “supercharge” the cancer “moonshot” program he initiated and presided over when he was vice president.

On Monday, Mr. Biden praised Dr. Bertagnolli for advancing that initiative and for her efforts to promote research on childhood cancers and programs to expand access to cancer clinical trials.

The announcement of her selection was not a surprise; a number of news organizations, including The New York Times, reported last month that the president planned to nominate Dr. Bertagnolli. It is not clear why there was a delay.

Fighting cancer is also personal for Dr. Bertagnolli. In mid-December, she announced her diagnosis and said she was “thankful to be receiving excellent care” at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she had worked as a surgical oncologist before taking the helm of the National Cancer Institute.

She said then that her prognosis was good and that she had enrolled in a clinical trial. In an interview with NPR in February, she said she was still in treatment.

“I went in for my regular mammogram expecting it to be negative like all the others and got a nasty surprise,” she said. “And so now I know what it feels like.” She added: “First thing I asked my doctors was, is there anything available for me? And there was a study available for me, and I signed on.”

Only one woman, Dr. Bernadine P. Healy, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, has led the National Institutes of Health on a permanent basis. Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, a longtime federal scientist and N.I.H. administrator, did two stints as the agency’s acting director.

If confirmed, Dr. Bertagnolli would replace Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak, who has led the agency in an acting capacity since its last permanent director, Dr. Francis S. Collins, left his post in December 2021. Dr. Collins, an appointee of President Barack Obama, served in that job for more than 12 years.

As N.I.H. director, Dr. Bertagnolli would lead one of the world’s premier research agencies, a collection of 27 institutes and centers focusing on cancer, infectious disease, heart and lung ailments, mental health and drug abuse, among other medical matters. With an annual budget of more than $47 billion, the N.I.H. funds research around the world.

A daughter of Italian and French Basque immigrants, Dr. Bertagnolli grew up on a ranch in southwestern Wyoming, studied engineering as an undergraduate at Princeton University and attended medical school at the University of Utah. Before joining the federal government, she was a professor of surgery specializing in surgical oncology at Harvard Medical School.

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