Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Senate confirms Bertagnolli as NIH director

Monica Bertagnolli testifies during her confirmation hearing. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The Senate today confirmed Monica Bertagnolli to be NIH director, giving the biomedical research agency a full-time political leader after nearly two years without one.

Why it matters: The 62-36 vote came over the opposition from Senate HELP Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, who said Bertagnolli did not commit to do enough to lower drug prices.

  • Sanders made the institutes' role in drug development and licensing its discoveries a major issue during Bertagnolli's confirmation hearing.
  • He pressed her to embrace ideas like "reasonable pricing" clauses in NIH contracts. But Bertagnolli declined to commit to any specifics, keeping her answers general.
  • Senators on both sides, though, didn't quibble with Bertagnolli's qualifications. A Harvard Medical School professor and former surgical oncologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, she currently is director of the National Cancer Institute.
  • Sens. John Barasso, Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins were among the Republicans voting in favor.

What's next: Bertagnolli has a thin political resume, so it remains to be seen how she will navigate thorny debates over drug pricing as well as COVID-19 issues like gain of function research.

  • Her predecessor, Francis Collins, enjoyed bipartisan respect, though the pandemic and the government's response stoked divisiveness around NIH's work with dangerous pathogens.
Go deeper