While Phillip Sharp’s 1993 Nobel Prize is testimony to his brilliance as a pure researcher, his equally strong credentials as a scientist adept at translating discoveries into products were evident in a keynote address to Northeastern University’s PharmSci Research Showcase on Friday.
Sharp, a founding member of the global pharmaceutical innovator Biogen Idec, detailed a recent example of his work in translational research: the promising strides he has made toward “silencing” disease-generating genes by manipulating ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules. RNA is closely related to the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule, and different types of RNA serve different functions within cells, including the regulation of gene expression.
“We’re talking about identifying a target, and I’ll give you an optimal drug to use in clinical trials in tw months” after the gene is identified, said Sharp, professor of biology and one of two Nobel laureates working in the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Sharp said he is currently overseeing clinical trials of the potential RNA-based therapies for respiratory and viral disease and cancer with Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.
Noting that Sharp is a “champion” of start-ups, Professor Mansoor Amiji, acting chair of Northeastern’s pharmaceutical science department, said university researchers were honored to hear his perspective on translating knowledge into successful, private companies.
The honor was his said Sharp, adding that he spoke at the event hosted by Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences to encourage the work going on here, and to acknowledge the strength of Bouvé’s pharmaceutical science department.
“It’s a very good pharmaceutical program,” said Sharp, who shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with English molecular biologist Sir Richard J. Roberts for their discovery of split genes. “It has a very strong outreach to the biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and I like to encourage people to think about working in this area.”
The daylong research showcase featured faculty work in drug discovery and development, molecular imaging and drug delivery, and included lectures by four of Northeastern’s leading researchers in the field: Professor Alexandros Makriyannis, director of the Center for Drug Discovery; Professor Michail Sitkovsky, director of the New England Inflammation & Tissue Protection Institute; Professor Craig Ferris, director of the Center for Translational NeuroImaging; and Professor Vladimir Torchilin, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology & Nanomedicine.
Amiji offered welcoming remarks along with Bouvé College of Health Sciences Dean Stephen Zoloth.
The fifth annual event was an opportunity for students and faculty to hear from a renowned scientist with a reputation for mentoring, Amiji said.
“He has had many successes, obviously — he is the winner of the Nobel Prize,” Amiji said. “But Mr. Sharp has also been very, very successful in mentoring. One of his students also went on to win the Nobel Prize. We were very honored to hear his perspective.”