29.02.2024

Biden Plans to Pick Monica Bertagnolli to Lead National Institutes of Health

President Biden plans to nominate Dr. Monica M. Bertagnolli, an oncologist who has run the National Cancer Institute for the past six months — and a cancer patient herself — to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health, an administration official said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Bertagnolli would be only the second woman to serve as the medical research agency’s director on a permanent basis since its origins in the late 1800s. She is the first female director of the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The White House is expected to announced her selection in the coming days, the administration official said. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment, saying a decision on the new director was not yet final. The Wall Street Journal earlier reported on her emergence as Mr. Biden’s pick.

Dr. Bertagnolli became the director of the National Cancer Institute, or N.C.I., in October. Two months later, she announced that she had received a diagnosis of early breast cancer and would begin treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where she had worked as a surgical oncologist before joining the federal government. She said her prognosis was good.

“I’m in a waiting period right now, and there are things we don’t know,” she said then. “But thanks to research funded by N.C.I., answers about the treatment that’s best for me will come in time.”

If confirmed, Dr. Bertagnolli would lead one of the world’s premier medical research agencies, a collection of 27 separate institutes and centers focusing on a wide array of medical matters, including cancer, infectious disease, heart and lung ailments, mental health and drug abuse. A branch of the federal Health and Human Services Department, the National Institutes of Health has an annual budget of more than $47 billion, much of it dispersed around the world to finance basic medical research.

Dr. Bertagnolli would replace Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak, who has served in an acting capacity since Dr. Francis S. Collins stepped down at the end of 2021 after more than 12 years as director.

Only one woman — Dr. Bernadine P. Healy, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush — has served as the agency’s director, although Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, a longtime federal scientist and N.I.H. administrator, twice served as acting director.

Before joining the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Bertagnolli was a professor of surgery specializing in surgical oncology at Harvard Medical School. Her past research has focused on the gene mutation that spurs the development of gastrointestinal cancer and on the role that inflammation plays in the growth of cancer.

Ellen V. Sigal, the founder and chairwoman of Friends of Cancer Research, a research and advocacy group, said she would be thrilled if the president selected Dr. Bertagnolli.

“She has every perspective that one would want in an N.I.H. leader,” Ms. Sigal said. “She has basic science. She has clinical experience. She has proven leadership capacity — and now is a patient.”

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