Monica Bertagnolli standing in a hallway
Monica Bertagnolli
ASCO/Glenn Davenport

The White House announced today (August 10) that Harvard cancer surgeon Monica Bertagnolli will become the next director of the National Cancer Institute, which oversees the Cancer Moonshot Initiative and funds the majority of US cancer research. Bertagnolli will replace Ned Sharpless, who resigned the post in April, to become the first female director of the NCI since the agency was founded in 1937, STAT reported last month. The institute is the largest within the National Institutes of Health and has an annual budget of nearly $7 billion.

“Dr. Bertagnolli is a terrific choice to be the 16th director of the National Cancer Institute,” Sharpless tells STAT. “She’s a marvelous surgeon and national leader in cancer clinical trials. She’s just the right person to lead President Biden’s ‘Cancer Moonshot,’” an initiative to cure cancer created by Biden as Vice President in 2016, soon after his son had died of brain cancer. 

Bertagnolli is currently a surgeon at the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center and a professor at Harvard Medical School. She has previously served as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and as the first woman chief of surgical oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center.

Science reports that one of her first tasks will be to steer the Cancer Moonshot in its new goal of cutting cancer deaths in half over the next 25 years, which President Biden announced this February. Bertagnolli will also take over ongoing NCI efforts to increase grant funding, improve diversity in cancer research, and shrink cancer death rates among Black people.