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Biden to Name First Woman to Lead National Cancer Institute

July 21, 2022, 10:28 PM

Harvard cancer surgeon Monica M. Bertagnolli is on tap to serve as the next director of the National Cancer Institute, indicating the White House plans to install a well-known cancer physician-scientist as it shores up the next phase of the Cancer Moonshot.

President Joe Biden’s appointment would make Bertagnolli the 16th director of the NCI and the first woman to serve in that role. Her appointment would fill a critical biomedical leadership role as the president has made the Cancer Moonshot 2.0 one of the administration’s priorities. The initiative aims to cut the death rate from cancer in half over the next 25 years.

With a nearly $7 billion budget, the cancer institute is the largest of the NIH’s 27 institutes and centers. It’s also the only the NIH institute position whose director must be named by the president. But unlike those nominated to be NIH director, Bertagnolli won’t need Senate confirmation.

Bertagnolli is a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and chief of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s surgical oncology division, where she’s worked for more than two decades. She’s a past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and also serves on the board of the American Cancer Society and the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

The White House hasn’t confirmed her nomination, but cancer groups have already embraced the decision. Her nomination was first reported by STAT News.

Major cancer groups applauded the announcement to appoint Bertagnolli.

Clifford A. Hudis, chief executive officer of ASCO, said in her tenure as president, Bertagnolli spearheaded efforts to increase access to equitable cancer care in rural areas, challenging the status quo and working to remove barriers to patient participation in clinical research. Those barriers include geographic distance and lack of coverage for routine care costs associated with participating in trials.

“Bertagnolli has the knowledge, passion, and skillset to successfully lead the nation’s top federal cancer research agency and the wider U.S. cancer research enterprise,” Hudis said.

Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, called Bertagnolli an “inspired” choice. “Strong leadership is key at this pivotal moment for science and innovation and as we embark on the next generation of President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot .”

Bertagnolli brings impressive qualifications to the position, including her background as a top-tier physician-scientist and much-admired professor, said Margaret Foti, chief executive officer of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Her appreciation for the value and importance of basic research to advancing translational discoveries, as well as her commitment to ensuring that such treatment innovations reach patients in all populations across the United States, will ensure that the NCI continues to lead the way in programs aimed at improving health, preventing cancer, and reducing the incidence and mortality from this devastating disease,” Foti said.

Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless stepped down as NCI director at the end of April. Doug Lowy, the institute’s principal deputy director and an NCI veteran, has been serving as acting director, marking his third tour in that role.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brent Bierman at bbierman@bloomberglaw.com; Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergindustry.com