Director's Comments: Bernard H. Schwetz, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Friends of the NCTR,
During this 35th anniversary year of NCTR and the 100th anniversary year of the FDA, I am pleased to share my thoughts about the Center during the years that I was the Director, 1993 to 1999. Let me declare my bias up front—I have said often that being the Director of NCTR was the best job I’ve had. I am grateful that Dr. Jane Henney selected me as the Director even though she later asked me to leave the Center to help her in the Office of the Commissioner while she was the head of the Agency.
Why was it the best job? Lots of things came together for me and NCTR. Art Norris, Ron Coene, and Pete Attwood were the best management team that any Director could ask for—the best that I’ve ever worked with. With Dave Gaylor added to the team, we were even better able to handle scientific issues as well as the personnel, budget, and facility issues in a way that was good for everyone. We reconnected NCTR to the FDA. Without that stronger tie, I am not sure that NCTR would have survived the tough financial years that followed. During those lean years, we reached a peak of support and involvement with NIEHS/NTP that allowed us to be more fiscally independent and at the same time created the opportunity to work on some very important projects. One example was the capability of conducting phototoxicity studies in large numbers of animals. This remains a unique and significant resource for conducting studies of great importance to Americans. The studies, conducted with the support of NIEHS/NTP, examined drugs, cosmetics, environmental chemicals, and contaminants of food and beverages, studies that are seminal to risk assessment throughout the world.
Bringing ORA on site and changing the name to the Jefferson Laboratories of the FDA was a large step forward, one that reinforced that NCTR was really part of the FDA. In response to concern over chemicals in the environment that had estrogenic or other hormonal activities, we developed capabilities for computational biology techniques that set the stage for NCTR to be a leader in the “-omics”. That area of research has come to be a particular strength of the Center and a magnet for attracting young scientists from all over the world.
If this was such a good job, why didn’t I stay? Beyond the change at Dr. Henney’s request, in my opinion directors of research laboratories should turn over every five to six years. The science changes so rapidly these days that it takes new leadership to keep an organization out in front. My years in “the corner office” were good years for the Center and were certainly good years for me personally. Thanks to all of you who helped to make that true.