A chance meeting at the 2013 AER Conference


by Julie Fine, BS, Legal Specialist, Worldwide Research and Development, Pfizer Inc, La Jolla, California

In the many months that have passed since the 2013 Advancing Ethical Research Conference, I’ve been reflecting on the keynote speeches, the sessions I attended, and the incredible retirement luncheon celebrating Joan Rachlin’s outstanding leadership of PRIM&R. Recently, my Pfizer colleagues and I had an opportunity to share highlights from our experiences with members of our legal organization, giving them the benefit of some of what we learned. We talked about data sharing, “best medical care” vs. “research,” and academic-industry partnerships.* It was a good opportunity for us to bring research ethics conversations to the fore and share some of the insights we gained from attendance at the conference.

But it was a chance meeting on the final day of the conference that has really stuck with me. On the Saturday morning of the conference, I went to grab coffee and breakfast with a friend of mine. We picked a quiet table where only one other person was sitting. The woman at the table was Inge Auerbacher, who was at the conference to present her documentary film, Finding Dr. Schatz: The Discovery of Streptomycin and a Life It Saved. The three of us chatted, and I quickly became enthralled by Inge’s curiosity and intelligence.

Later that day, I attended Inge’s presentation of her documentary, and I discovered that the charming, articulate woman that I had shared breakfast with had survived the Holocaust and overcome tuberculosis to become a respected scientist and author. Her frankness, courage, determination, and enormous sense of humor were inspirational. Her unabashed self-promotion of her books and plea for support for her film just added to her charm and wit.  Nobel Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, once called Inge “an illumination,” and I couldn’t agree more—indeed, she shines.

Finding Dr. Schatz is a well-crafted film based on the eponymous book by Inge Auerbacher and Albert Schatz. The documentary chronicles a budding friendship between Inge, who overcame tuberculosis with the help of streptomycin, and Albert, a scientist whose involvement in the discovery of streptomycin went unrecognized for many years. A thoughtful ode to her friend and healer, Inge’s documentary examines the contradictions that often arise between scientific pursuits, medical discoveries, and commercialization. After the screening, I felt grateful for the serendipity that brought three strangers to the breakfast table that morning. I encourage everyone to take a moment to learn about Inge’s extraordinary life.

*If you were unable to join us for the 2013 AER Conference, you can still discover a wealth of resources from the conference by purchasing access to our Conference Proceedings. Session handouts and select video presentations are available on the topics Julie mentioned, as well as much more.