Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO testified before members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on October 18, 2023, as part of her confirmation process to become director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Dr. Bertagnolli, current National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director, previously served as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, from 2018-2019. She is an accomplished cancer surgeon and researcher with deep expertise in community-based cancer research. In addition to leading the NCI, Dr. Bertagnolli has also played a critical role in elevating the goals of the Cancer Moonshot initiative through the comprehensive National Cancer Plan.
During the two-hour hearing, Dr. Bertagnolli shared her vision for leading the nation’s top research agency, which included supporting research that is equitable and accessible to all populations, capitalizing on new discoveries in health information technology and data analytics, and embracing and increasing access to innovation.
“I have seen the transformative power of NIH research to produce results that save lives,” she said. “But I've also seen the patients whose prospects were compromised by preventable factors. We should be able to guarantee that the American people are getting a return on their investment by ensuring that health care innovations are available and affordable for everyone.”
Dr. Bertagnolli also shared her perspective from being a patient. In 2022, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and said she was fortunate to be diagnosed early.
“I had access to outstanding care knowing full well that not every patient has that same chance,” said Dr. Bertagnolli, who called her prognosis “excellent.”
“Most importantly, every treatment I received was supported by NIH-funded research,” she continued. “I am grateful beyond words to the patients who joined the clinical trials before me, and the doctors and researchers who were able to use that information to make the best decisions.”
Dr. Bertagnolli addressed questions from committee members on a variety of pressing health care issues, including the obesity epidemic, opioids, rural health care access, inflammation in disease, affordable care, global health, clinical trial diversity, and diversity in the workforce.
“I look forward to partnering with Congress and many others to advance discovery and apply the results of our research to better the lives of every American,” she said.
The Society and Association for Clinical Oncology shared a statement of support ahead of the hearing that urged members of the committee to approve Dr. Bertagnolli’s nomination. According to the White House, her nomination is supported by more than 100 organizations, including leaders in medical research, provider associations, and patient advocacy.
“Dr. Bertagnolli has the unique combination of scientific background, medical experience, and dynamic leadership skills required to lead the NIH,” said ASCO CEO Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO. “She is an authentic, bold force for patients and for science. We enthusiastically endorse her selection and look forward to working with her to further our shared goals to advance U.S. medical research.”
The Senate HELP Committee is expected to vote on Dr. Bertagnolli’s nomination on October 25, 2023.
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