New director will face potential scrutiny from both Republicans and Democrats
By Physician’s Briefing Staff HealthDay Reporter
MONDAY, May 15, 2023 (HealthDay News) — The U.S. National Institutes of Health could get a new leader in Monica Bertagnolli, M.D., the Boston cancer surgeon who has led the U.S. National Cancer Institute since last fall.
On Monday, President Joe Biden formally nominated Bertagnolli to the post, which has been filled by an interim director since December 2021, The Washington Post reported. She would have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“In her seven-month tenure as National Cancer Institute Director, Dr. Bertagnolli quickly demonstrated her strategic and comprehensive approach to accelerating progress in cancer prevention, detection, and treatment,” Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society and ACS Cancer Action Network, said in a statement. “Among her accomplishments in the last half year, Dr. Bertagnolli released a robust Cancer Plan, laying out an inspired roadmap to advance the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, to end cancer as we know it.”
Bertagnolli’s new job would come with potential scrutiny and Republican-led investigations into NIH funding of virus research. This funding includes grants to a nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance that studied coronaviruses in Wuhan, China. “We know that EcoHealth has failed to publish all its work and has, in fact, refused to share its work with the U.S. government,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), leader of a House panel investigating the coronavirus response, said at a hearing in April. The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has alleged that the NIH failed to “appropriately monitor” EcoHealth work, though the nonprofit has denied wrongdoing, according to The Post.
Democrats, too, have concerns about the agency’s structure and whether it is a good fit for a climate that prizes breakthroughs from private-sector companies and philanthropists. “I’m a big fan of the NIH â¦ but I will say, I’m concerned by the pace of scientific research that we’re seeing,” Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) said at a hearing last month on NIH budget requests, The Post reported.
Bertagnolli’s work at the cancer institute has included a plan to reduce cancer deaths and achieve President Joe Biden’s “moonshot” initiative, which aims to cut the U.S. cancer death rate by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years. She also has focused on streamlining the complications and costs of studies.
Bertagnolli, 64, studied chemical engineering at Princeton University and graduated from the University of Utah School of Medicine. She is also the mother of a son with autism. She has called for improving health equity to accelerate progress against cancer deaths.
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