Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

The Man Who Helped Launch Biotech

Phillip A. Sharp, Institute Professor, Biogen Cofounder

Kendall Square may now be the center of the biotech industry, but Institute Professor Phil Sharp, HM ’96, remembers when the neighborhood was a virtual wasteland. Aside from the occasional vandal, “there wasn’t anyone there,” he says. An energetic 71-year-old with a trim white beard and wire-framed glasses, Sharp now works at the gleaming Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a stone’s throw from the site where the startup he cofounded kicked off the biotech revolution in Kendall Square.

In 1978, a year after pioneering research on split genes that would later earn him a Nobel Prize, Sharp and Harvard biochemist Wally Gilbert founded Biogen, a company using the new field of recombinant DNA to create treatments for diseases including multiple sclerosis and leukemia. “It was a technology we knew was going to impact the world, but it was all located inside universities,” remembers Sharp. “There was no practical application for molecular biology.” Though major pharmaceutical companies told him that “you won’t last a year,” the company persevered, opening first in Switzerland and then relocating to Cambridge, in a warehouse building on Binney Street. The biotech industry was born—and Kendall Square would never be the same.

Biogen’s Phillip A. Sharp Building on Binney Street opened in 2014.

Since then Biogen, now worth more than $90 billion, has become a leader in therapies for MS, hemophilia, and other genetic diseases. Though Sharp left its board in 2009, he has since cofounded Alnylam, which is based on RNA interference, a technology a Nobel Prize–winning former student created as a way to “silence” specific genes. (Alnylam, a $10 billion company, has its headquarters on Third Street.) Sharp remains active on the boards of the Whitehead Institute and the Broad Institute. And last year on Binney Street, on virtually the exact site of Biogen’s first home in Cambridge, the company opened the Phillip A. Sharp Building, whose shiny glass façade fits right in amidst a sea of gleaming buildings housing biotech companies.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.