The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 15-6 this morning to advance the nomination of Monica Bertagnolli, M.D., as the next Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The full Senate will vote next on the confirmation.
Dr. Bertagnolli is a world-renowned surgical oncologist, cancer researcher, educator and physician leader, who became the first woman to serve as the Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in October 2022. On October 18th, the HELP Committee held a confirmation hearing to consider her nomination to the NIH Director position. President Biden had announced his intention to nominate her for the role back in May of this year.
FABBS was one of 122 organizations on a community sign on letter encouraging a rapid confirmation.
Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had delayed the confirmation hearing, requesting specific promises from Dr. Bertagnolli. Senator Warren asked Dr. Bertagnolli to commit to refusing any compensation or employment with major pharmaceutical companies for four years following her term as NIH Director. Senator Sanders delayed the confirmation hearing in hopes of soliciting a vow from President Biden and Dr. Bertagnolli to lower the price of prescription drugs. While not fully resolved, the HELP Committee was permitted to move forward with the confirmation hearing.
During the hearing, Dr. Bertagnolli articulated her commitment to equitable and accessible research, highlighting the need to increase diversity in clinical trials. She also stressed the importance of expanding access to healthcare innovation, ensuring that it is both accessible and affordable. Dr. Bertagnolli also vowed to restoring faith in science. She plans to do this by supporting education in all fields of medical research and inspiring students at all levels in scientific fields.
HELP Committee members raised a range of concerns from cancer to obesity to possible harms of NIH-funded research in gender-affirming care. Dr. Bertagnolli asserted that she will uphold her responsibility as NIH Director to serve all people and any research that upholds the highest standards and ethical principles, such as respecting human dignity, doing no harm, and bringing benefit to mankind.
Senator Smith (D-MN) shared concerns about adequacy of funding for mental health research, citing that less than five percent of NIH funding is allocated to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). Dr. Bertagnolli elaborated that mental health is interconnected with all health conditions and pledged to focus on integrating mental health considerations into research across all NIH institutes to optimize resources and improve mental healthcare access and awareness across the nation.
FABBS looks forward to working with Dr. Bertagnolli and elevating the role of the behavioral and brain science community to serve the NIH mission. If confirmed, Dr. Bertagnolli will succeed former NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who stepped down in December of 2021.