Dr. Phillip Sharp, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1993 for his discovery of RNA splicing, remains one of the world’s foremost scientists. He also oversees research activities in the Sharp Laboratory at MIT, where his "Sharpies" carry out studies primarily focused on RNAi and RNA splicing.
Significantly, Dr. Sharp has been a key figure in the biotechnology industry since its early days. He co-founded Biogen (now Biogen Idec) in 1978 and recently retired from its board of directors. In 2002 he was a co-founder of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, where he remains on the board.
In view of his long involvement in the academic and commercial biotech arenas and in light of the ongoing global economic recession, GEN thought it would be a good time to interview Dr. Sharp about the state of the bioindustry as well as on other issues relevant to many aspects of life science research.
During this week's podcast Dr. Sharp gives us his thoughts on the recession's potential long-term impact on the structure and health of the worldwide biotech industry. He also talks about the differences between founding a biotech company over 30 years ago and now, while contrasting the nature of the regulatory environment during those time periods.
Dr. Sharp defines what separates winners from losers in biotechnology and lists the biotech industry’s main achievements over its short history. He also points out where the industry has come up short in fulfilling some of its most hoped for expectations.
Dr. Sharp describes how it felt to win the most prestigious of scientific awards and offers some advice for entrepreneurs who might be thinking of starting a biotech company today.
A world leader of research in molecular biology and biochemistry, Dr. Phillip A. Sharp is Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Much of Dr. Sharp's scientific work has been conducted at MIT's Center for Cancer Research (now the Koch Institute), which he joined in 1974 and directed from 1985 to 1991. He subsequently led the Department of Biology from 1991 to 1999 before assuming the directorship of the McGovern Institute from 2000-2004. His research interests have centered on the molecular biology of gene expression relevant to cancer and the mechanisms of RNA splicing. His landmark achievement was the discovery of RNA splicing in 1977. This work provided one of the first indications of the startling phenomenon of “discontinuous genes” in mammalian cells. The discovery that genes contain nonsense segments that are edited out by cells in the course of utilizing genetic information is important in understanding the genetic causes of cancer and other diseases. This discovery, which fundamentally changed scientists' understanding of the structure of genes, earned Dr. Sharp the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. His lab has now turned its attention to understanding how RNA molecules act as switches to turn genes on and off (RNA interference). These newly discovered processes have revolutionized cell biology and could potentially generate a new class of therapeutics.
Dr. Sharp has authored over 350 scientific papers. He has received numerous awards and honorary degrees, and has served on many advisory boards for the government, academic institutions, scientific societies, and companies. His awards include the Gairdner Foundation International Award, General Motors Research Foundation Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize for Cancer Research, the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the National Medal of Science and the inaugural Double Helix Medal from CSHL. He is elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
A native of Kentucky, Dr. Sharp earned a B.A. degree from Union College, KY in 1966, and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1969. He did his postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology, where he studied the molecular biology of plasmids from bacteria in Professor Norman Davidson's laboratory. Prior to joining MIT, he was Senior Scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
In 1978 Dr. Sharp co-founded Biogen (now Biogen Idec) and in 2002 he co-founded Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, an early-stage therapeutics company.