Phillip Sharp says that he decides daily what he is going to do by evaluating whether a particular opportunity has the power to affect humanity.
“I try to focus my activities along paths that will have the biggest impact on the largest number of people,” he says. “I want to make a difference in the world.”
In 1993, Sharp won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in RNA splicing. That work opened an entire area in molecular biology that forever changed the field. His lab is now working on RNA interference. The process has revolutionized cell biology and could generate a new class of treatments.
Sharp, who recently won the National Medal of Science, is a world leader of research in molecular biology and biochemistry. He works at MIT’s Center for Cancer Research, where he was director for seven years. He led the Department of Biology for eight years and was founding director of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, where for four years he was director. He is also co-founder of two companies, Biogen Idec, the oldest free-standing biotech company, and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.
Sharp believes that it is risk-taking that has made him a success. “I’m willing to seize the opportunity to make something happen when I am not at all sure that I am going to be successful,” he says. “I like figuring out how to make something work when I don’t have a role model or a pattern to follow. I like working without a net.”
Sharp says his biggest concern for mankind is that we’ll stop believing in the future. “I hope that we never stop believing that tomorrow will be better than today,” he says.
“It’s important for our society not to lose confidence in our ability and systems and to continue not only to create the future but to lead it.”