Margaret A. Hamburg, whose many prestigious roles have included FDA Commissioner, New York City Health Commissioner, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) President, and Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Medicine, has been awarded the 2022 Philip Hauge Abelson Prize.
The prize honors an individual for groundbreaking contributions to science in America, either as a public servant, or a scientist or engineer with a distinguished record of scientific achievement and other notable services to the community.
Hamburg has always worked at the intersection of science, medicine, and the public. She graduated from Harvard College in 1977 and earned her M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1983. She completed her residency at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine.
Following her medical training, Hamburg moved to Washington, D.C. to begin her career in public service. She served in several roles before landing a position as New York City Health Commissioner in 1991.
During her six-year tenure, Hamburg implemented rigorous public health initiatives that tackled the city’s most pressing crises head-on – including improved services for women and children, a needle-exchange program to combat HIV transmission, and the nation’s first public health bio-terrorism defense program.
Her most celebrated achievement was a tuberculosis control program, which led to an 86 percent decline in drug-resistant TB in just five years. From 1997 to 2001, she served as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS.
At HHS, Hamburg built on the work she’d done as NYC Health Commissioner. She led an effort laying the foundation for public health preparedness against biological threats, ranging from naturally occurring pandemics to bioterrorism. This included creating the precursor to our Strategic National Stockpile, the first National Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan, and making investments in new medical countermeasures to combat pathogens of pandemic potential. Hamburg also spearheaded the first strategic plan for eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health and healthcare.
From 2001 to 2009, she served as founding vice president and senior scientist at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit focused on reducing nuclear and biological threats to humanity.
In 2009, Hamburg returned to government in the Obama Administration as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, serving until 2015.
At FDA, Hamburg was known for advancing regulatory science, streamlining and modernizing regulatory pathways, and globalizing the agency. Under her leadership, for the first time in history, FDA began regulating tobacco products through implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009, the first major effort to upgrade food safety in 60 years through the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, along with a review of the system for the evaluation and approval of medical devices and development of new, more streamlined regulatory pathways for medical products.
She was the longest-serving FDA commissioner since David A. Kessler, and only the second woman to hold the position.
Since her retirement from FDA, Hamburg has volunteered for many groups working to advance public health.
Until recently, she served as Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Medicine and helped navigate AAAS through difficult challenges as its President-elect, President, and Chair of the Board of Directors.
Finally, Hamburg has always been committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a biracial individual herself, she understands the issues involved and has been tireless in efforts to address them.
“In medical school, I was struck by how difficult it was to find real mentors. In particular, there were not many women in leadership roles, but I sought out individuals whose work I wanted to emulate. And I was fortunate to observe my mother and father, both incredible role models who worked in fields they felt passionate about, with each making a difference in the world. To young scientists, I would advise seeking out those whose work you admire, not just in the academic sense, but those whose values and leadership uplifts those around them,” Abelson said in an interview with AAAS. “Remember that there is a place for you in the scientific community, along with many ways for you to use your passion and skills to make a difference in the world.
[Associated image: Courtesy of the Simons Foundation]