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A watchdog group has raised a red flag over a promise — from President Joe Biden’s choice to head up the National Institute of Health — to not take any money or work for a Big Pharma company for four years after leaving her position.
Monica Bertagnolli, Biden’s pick to head up the NIH, made the promise in a letter sent earlier this month to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The promise, though, is “bogus” because it would still allow her research to be funded by pharmaceutical companies, according to the American Accountability Foundation.
“Monica Bertagnolli is one of the worst nominees Biden has chosen. Her history of incompetence as a doctor and her tight relationship with Big Pharma make her unqualified for this position. Her attempts now to fool Congress with this bogus ‘ethics pledge’ just reinforces this. Sen. Warren needs to reject this ploy and make Dr. Bertagnolli answer for her past,” said AAF President Tom Jones in a statement to The Daily Wire.
Bertagnolli has faced opposition after her appointment three months ago, including from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has been using her nomination to pressure the White House over drug prices.
“In response to our conversation, I am willing to voluntarily extend the recusal period from two years to four years for all particular matters involving companies with which I have a previous working relationship,” Bertagnolli wrote. “If confirmed as NIH Director, I will also further commit for four years following my tenure to not seek employment with or compensation from, including as a result of board service, any pharmaceutical company with annual revenues at or above $10 billion.”
Research associated with Bertagnolli, has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, including tens of millions from COVID vaccine manufacturer Pfizer, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service’s Open Payments site.
According to Open Payments, Pfizer gave over $30 million to research associated with Bertagnolli in 2022 and biotech company Seagen Inc. gave over $22 million that same year. Associated research is defined as funding “for a research project of study where the physician is named as a principal investigator.”
A fact-check from the Associated Press on a social media posting about Bertagnolli’s ties to Pfizer said that the funding was not directly to her, but that much of the funding went toward a clinical trial for cancer treatment.
“That may be accurate, but it misses the point. Monica Bertagnolli is profiting handsomely off of the pharmaceutical industry’s support for her research. Funds have flowed through to her salary at Brigham and Women’s Hospital / Dana Farber Cancer Institute where she is a researcher,” a memo from the AAF said.
The AAF has also pointed to Bertagnolli’s previous ties to Natera, where she earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock and was on the board, before she joined the National Cancer Institute. Natera has been scrutinized in the media, including the New York Times, who reported that Natera’s genetic testing products can often lead to false positives or negatives.