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Biden picks cancer surgeon Monica Bertagnolli to be next NIH director

<i>Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images</i><br/>Monica Bertagnolli
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Monica Bertagnolli

By Maegan Vazquez and Donald Judd, CNN

President Joe Biden will nominate Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, who currently leads the National Cancer Institute, to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health, the White House announced on Monday.

Biden called Bertagnolli “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,” in a statement Monday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Bertagnolli would be filling a role that’s been vacant for over a year. She would lead the country’s medical research agency, overseeing 27 research institutes and centers focused on different areas of medical research, such as cancer, the human genome, as well as allergy and infectious diseases.

The nomination to lead NIH marks a fast ascent within the Biden administration for Bertagnolli. She became the first woman to lead the NCI when she joined the institute last October. And just two months into her role leading the NCI, which is overseen by the NIH, she announced last December that she was diagnosed with early breast cancer. She told NPR in February that she was still in treatment.

If confirmed, Bertagnolli would succeed Dr. Lawrence Tabak, who’s been serving as acting NIH director since her predecessor Francis Collins retired at the end of 2021. Collins led the NIH for 12 years.

Biden’s statement also makes a nod to Bertagnolli’s involvement in the advancement of the president’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to halve the rate of cancer deaths by 2047.

It’s an initiative close to the president’s heart, spurred after the death of his son, Beau Biden, who died in 2015 at age 46 after battling brain cancer.

Bertagnolli, Biden wrote, “has brought together partners and resources from different sectors to launch groundbreaking efforts in cancer prevention and early detection, a national navigation program for childhood cancers, and additional programs to bring clinical trials to more Americans.”

Prior to joining the NCI, Bertagnolli was previously the Richard E. Wilson Professor of Surgery in the field of surgical oncology at Harvard Medical School, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a member of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment and Sarcoma Centers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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