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President Joe Biden‘s nominee to lead the National Institute of Health allegedly received millions of dollars in research-related funds from big pharmaceutical companies while opposing Trump-era drug costs, according to a watchdog group.
The American Accountability Foundation, a conservative opposition research group founded in 2020, published a new report observed by The New York Post that said NIH Biden-nominee Dr. Monica Bertagnolli has “problematic close ties with big pharma” with the nation’s primary agency responsible for biomedical and public health research
“Big Pharma bankrolled her career, and she has long been a friend and ally to them,” the group told The Post in a statement. “Especially after the corruption and lies that came from the government’s medical agencies during COVID, the American people need to know that NIH will be led by honest people who serve them, and are not owned by massive corporations.”
“Our government’s medical institutions must serve the interests of the American people, not Big Pharma,” the group said. “However, Dr. Bertagnolli’s extensive financial ties to pharmaceutical companies raise serious questions about her ability to lead NIH in a manner that is not beholden to special or secret interests.”
Bertagnolli, 64, received more than $350 million in research-related funds from pharmaceutical giants, including at least $56 million from Pfizer, Seagan Inc., and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals in 2022, according to data.
Biden’s White House told the outlet that the $350 million included grants awarded to a non-profit Bertagnolli ran, which conducted nationwide clinical trials on cancer prevention.
“These studies ensured that rural communities were part of these trials,” an administration official said. “Funding for large clinical trials like these come from a number of sources, including companies participating in the trials. That’s standard.”
Although the grants reportedly did not go to Bertagnolli, the watchdog group argued the physician-scientist likely had secondary funds “flowed through to her salary at [Boston’s] Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Dana Farber Cancer Institute where she is a researcher.”
According to the 2022-2023 financial disclosure forms included in the report, Bertagnolli reported $1,609,198 in salary and bonuses from the cancer institute.
President Biden announced Bertagnolli’s nomination as NIH Director in May, calling her a “world-renowned surgical oncologist, cancer researcher, educator, and physician-leader who has the vision and leadership needed to deliver on NIH’s mission to seek fundamental knowledge and promote human health.”
During former President Donald Trump’s administration, Bertagnolli vocalized her opposition to the president’s “Most Favored Nation” proposal, which aimed to slash prices of prescription drugs like Insulin by roughly 50%.
“This model, which imposes a nationwide, mandatory experiment without the ability to actually learn whether this is an optimal approach, will drastically cut reimbursement for a number of life-saving cancer drug treatments, significantly limiting access to care for Medicare beneficiaries,” Bertagnolli said while serving as the board chair of the Association of Clinical Oncology.
If confirmed by the Senate, Bertagnolli would become the institute’s first surgeon to serve as director.
The American College of Surgeons reported the issues expected to be discussed during Dr. Bertagnolli’s Senate confirmation hearings include lowering prescription drug pricing and the agency’s COVID-19 response.