Former FIC Director Schambra Retires
By Irene Edwards
Dr. Philip E. Schambra, director of the Fogarty International Center from 1988 to 1998, retired on Jan. 1, ending more than 30 years of distinguished service to the federal government in the cause of global health. At FIC's helm as it embarked on its second quarter century, he built on its past strengths and identified new ways the center could address a range of international scientific and human challenges.
"I am proud to have played a part in taking the FIC to a new level of leadership in the global health arena," he said recently, "and to have been instrumental in shaping the center's mission as it approaches the new millennium."
Dr. Philip E. Schambra
Two developments influenced Schambra's focus for the center: First, the AIDS pandemic and growing concern about other new and reemerging infectious diseases on a global scale, and second, the collapse of communism and the rise of new democracies, which presented fresh opportunities to cooperate with scientists internationally. With congressional support, FIC launched an effort to undergird the HIV research effort by training scientists and health professionals from developing nations where the epidemic had taken hold.
During his tenure as FIC director, Schambra oversaw a doubling of the FIC budget and initiated a number of projects in cooperation with NIH institutes. The AIDS International Training and Research Program, now in its 10th year, served as a model for the development of research and training programs. This program addresses the gap between developed and developing countries in the area of modern information technologies and currently focuses on training scientists from sub-Saharan Africa.
Yet another result of his vision is the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups Program, sponsored by a consortium of federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, and several NIH institutes. This effort funds groups that collaborate on projects addressing biodiversity conservation and the promotion of sustained economic activity through drug discovery from natural products.
Schambra attended Rice University in Houston, where he majored in physics with the intent of becoming a nuclear engineer. In his senior year, he became fascinated with the relationship between biology and physics and, following in the footsteps of other notable physicists-turned-biologists, he earned a Ph.D. in biophysics at Yale.
At Yale, he worked in a laboratory with a large number of foreign postdoctoral fellows and, partly as a result of interactions with these colleagues, he developed an interest in international relations.
After a year-long fellowship in Germany, he returned to the U.S. to conduct research and teach at the Donner Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. It was here that he gained his first experience in the challenges of mounting an international scientific event, when he organized the first international symposium on space radiation biology. He decided on a career path that would take him from the research laboratory but would enable him to advance science through other means. This decision brought him to NIH as a grants associate trainee in 1967.
In the course of a 1-year training period, he spent 3 months at the then Bureau of the Budget in the White House Executive Office (now the Office of Management and Budget). He was offered a job at OMB after completing his training and spent 3 years there as examiner for the NIH budget. During these years, President Nixon announced the War on Cancer, calling for a 1-year doubling of the NCI budget from $100 million to $200 million. Schambra worked closely with the then leadership of NIH and NCI to develop a program that would make the best use of this influx of new money and encouraged NIH to take the broadest possible view of what constituted cancer research. He also suggested to NIH the development of a program to train minorities in medicine and the health sciences -- this led to the establishment of the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program.
In 1974, he returned to NIH as associate director for interagency programs at NIEHS. His FIC career began in 1980, when he was named chief of the then International Coordination and Liaison Branch. From 1984 to 1988, on loan from FIC, he served as science attaché and international health representative at the U.S. Embassy in India.
Schambra leaves NIH with the gratitude of all his colleagues for his untiring efforts on behalf of international health and with their warmest wishes for a happy and productive retirement.