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Monica Bertagnolli begins work as 16th director of the National Cancer Institute

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Headshot of NCI Director Dr. Monica Bertagnolli

NCI Director Dr. Monica Bertagnolli

Monica M. Bertagnolli, M.D., started today as the 16th director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She is the first woman to hold the position of NCI director. Dr. Bertagnolli succeeds Norman E. Sharpless, M.D., who stepped down as director in April 2022. Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., has been NCI’s acting director since April 30, 2022.

“I look forward to working with Dr. Bertagnolli to advance the President’s call to end cancer as we know it. Dr. Bertagnolli’s decades of cancer research expertise around patient-centered care and her work to create more inclusive clinical trials will be instrumental as we accelerate the rate of research and innovation to fight cancer,” said Secretary Xavier Becerra, U.S. Health and Human Services. “Cancer knows no bounds and neither should our efforts to prevent cancer deaths. Together, we will reignite and advance the President’s Cancer Moonshot initiative to save lives.”

“Dr. Bertagnolli brings exceptional experience to NIH as a surgical oncologist, professor, scientist, and leader in the cancer research community,” said Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., who is performing the duties of the NIH director. “She is ideally suited to lead NCI at a point in time when opportunities abound for major advancements in cancer research and cancer care.”

Dr. Bertagnolli joins NCI from Harvard Medical School, where she served as the Richard E. Wilson Professor of Surgery in the field of surgical oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She also was a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a member of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment and Sarcoma Centers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

In addition to treating gastrointestinal cancers and soft tissue sarcomas, Dr. Bertagnolli is a highly regarded cancer researcher. Earlier in her career, she led the Adenoma Prevention with Celecoxib Trial, which showed that daily use of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib (Celebrex) could lower the risk of precancerous colorectal polyps coming back. Her leadership in the NCI-funded Cooperative Groups Program (now NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network) has led to the integration of tumor-specific biomarkers in clinical trial protocols. More recently, her research on the APC gene and the role of inflammation in influencing its activity has transformed our understanding of how colorectal cancer develops.

Her experience as a physician-scientist inspired Dr. Bertagnolli to become an advocate for increasing the diversity of patients in clinical trials. She has championed and advanced patient-focused programs in rural and remote communities. 

“I am thrilled to begin my work at NCI, in partnership with the cancer community,” said Dr. Bertagnolli. “I think of the patients I’ve lost in 37 years as a doctor and how much more we can do for people today. That progress drives me to do more—to do everything we can to save more lives.

“I see our work as aimed at three broad goals: understanding how cancer arises and what biological processes it disrupts; developing and testing new prevention and therapy approaches; and partnering with patients to develop ways for all people to receive the care that best meets their needs and, if they wish, to participate in research,” she continued. “With the passion and commitment of the President and his administration to the Cancer Moonshot℠, I believe the opportunities before us to improve the outlook for cancer patients are unprecedented.”

Dr. Bertagnolli also has served as vice president of Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups, group chair of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, president of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology Foundation, and CEO of Alliance Foundation Trials, LLC. She served as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology from 2018-2019 and was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2021.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Princeton University in New Jersey and a medical degree from the University of Utah School of Medicine, completing a residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She served as an attending surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center before joining Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 1999.

Dr. Lowy will resume his role as principal deputy director of NCI and will continue his work as chief of the Laboratory of Cellular Oncology in NCI’s Center for Cancer Research.

About the National Cancer Institute (NCI): NCI leads the National Cancer Program and NIH’s efforts to dramatically reduce the prevalence of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at cancer.gov or call NCI’s contact center, the Cancer Information Service, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit nih.gov.

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