Professor Phillip A. Sharp is Founding Director of the McGovern Institute at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, where he was named Institute Professor in 1999.
Much of Dr. Sharp's scientific work has been conducted at MIT's Center for Cancer Research, 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 in 2000. 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. Dr.
Sharp's research opened an entirely new area in molecular biology and forever changed the field. For
this work, he received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. More recently, Dr. Sharp's
laboratory has focused on the functions of short regulatory RNAs.
Dr. Sharp's recent work on RNA interference has opened a new era in molecular biology.
Dr. Sharp's laboratory has recently shown that RNA interference could be used to inhibit virus
production by targeting the mRNAs for HIV-1. RNA interference is now being used by many research
laboratories to provide new insights into functional genomics by manipulating expression of specific
genes. It is being used by pharmaceutical companies to search for new drug targets and RNA interference
technology may soon lead to therapeutic gene silencing for the treatment of many forms of cancers and
A native of Kentucky, Dr. Sharp earned a B.A. degree from Union College, Kentucky, and a Ph.D. 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. It was in Dr. Davidson's laboratory that Dr. Sharp
began the transition from his graduate field of training in physical chemistry to molecular biology. He
did his Ph.D. work on DNA as a polymer. His early work in molecular biology included using the
heteroduplex method and electron microscopy to study the structure of plasmids of the sex factors and
drug resistant factors of bacteria. It was at the end of his postdoctoral period that Dr. Sharp began
to study the structure and pathway of expression of genes in human cells which he continued at Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory under the mentorship of Dr. James Watson. Prior to joining MIT, he was Senior
Scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Dr. Sharp has authored over 320 scientific papers. His work has been honored with numerous awards
including the Gairdner Foundation International Award, General Motors Research Foundation, Alfred P.
Sloan, Jr. Prize for Cancer Research, Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize and Albert Lasker Basic Medical
Research Award. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine,
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
Dr. Sharp is co-founder of Biogen, Inc., 1978 (now Biogen Idec), Chairman of the Scientific Board (to
2002) and Member of the Board of Directors. He is also co-founder of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (2002),
where he serves as Chairman of the Scientific Board and is a member of the company's Board of Directors.
Dr. Sharp has a distinguished record of public service on many scientific advisory boards/committees
including the National Cancer Institute's Advisory Board which he chaired for two years (2000-2002), the
Sloan Foundation Board of Trustees, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and the Presidents Advisory
Council in Science and Technology. He has served as Co-Chairman of the Director of NIH's Strategic Plan,
as a member of the Committee of Science, Engineering and Public Policy and as a member of the Board of
Trustees of the Massachusetts General Hospital.
It is a great honor and a privilege to have Dr. Phillip Sharp as this year's Nathan Kaufman Timely