The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed cancer expert Dr. Monica Bertagnoli to lead the National Institutes of Health.
In a bipartisan vote of 62-36, more than a dozen Republicans joined all but one in supporting President Joe Biden’s selection to head the federal medical research center.
Bertagnoli, a Massachusetts-trained oncological surgeon, previously served as director of the National Cancer Institute, making her the first woman to lead the institute, the White House said in May. He made the announcement as he announced his nomination to head the NIH, which he oversees.
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Mr. Bertagnoli will succeed Dr. Lawrence Tabak, who has served as acting director since December 2021. Before Mr. Tabak, Dr. Francis Collins led the NIH under three presidential administrations, starting with President Barack Obama in 2009. NIH is based in Bethesda, Maryland. , which manages a variety of research organizations that pursue scientific discoveries, including vaccine development and other medical innovations.
Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the NIH, said in a statement that Bertagnoli will bring to the agency the “vigorous energy and clear vision” he displayed at the Cancer Institute. Throughout her career, she has focused on improving the health and well-being of Americans.
“She has built a reputation as a strong advocate for cancer patients with a drive to take on the most deadly diseases patients face and a commitment to eradicating cancer as we know it. ” Becerra said.
Before leading the Cancer Institute, Bertagnoli was the Richard E. Wilson Professor of Surgical Oncology at Harvard Medical School and a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated hospital in Massachusetts. She was also a member of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment and Sarcoma Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
There were two notable exceptions for Senate progressives.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, spoke on the Senate floor about prescription drug costs and the need for NIH reform. He voted not to endorse Mr. Bertagnolli. Sen. John Fetterman, a progressive Democrat from Pennsylvania, was the only Biden member to vote against Bertagnoli. She, like Sanders, voiced her concerns about her standing up to “big pharma.”
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The American Cancer Society and its action network supported her confirmation. The health nonprofit’s CEO, Dr. Karen Knudsen, cited her “first-hand knowledge” advances in cancer innovation and cancer research as evidence of the solid foundation of her new role. Pointed out understanding of patient needs.
“In short, she’s a game changer,” Knudsen said.
Bertagnoli grew up on a ranch in Wyoming. She was raised by first-generation Basque immigrant parents of Italian and French descent, according to the White House. She was educated at Princeton University and she attended medical school at the University of Utah.
Eduardo Cuevas covers health and breaking news for USA TODAY. He can be reached at EMCuevas1@usatoday.com.