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AAAS Pres: Science Drives Innovation, Economic Growth

Phillip Sharp

Phillip Sharp (A. Kotok)

13 February 2014. Phillip Sharp, professor of molecular biology at MIT and president of American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS), underscored the tight connection between scientific advancement, entrepreneurship, and economic growth, in the opening plenary session of the AAAS annual conference in Chicago.

Sharp described the way scientific discovery feeds the economic engines of a society, with entrepreneurship serving as the link between scientific discovery and economic growth. He cited MIT as an example where one-third of MIT alumni started companies. In addition, MIT graduates are becoming entrepreneurs younger, with the average age of start-up founders falling to 28 in the 1990s, from 40 or older in the 1950s.

In and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, said Sharp, science-based start-ups are locating across the street from the university’s Kendall Square campus, to take advantage of graduates learning the latest advances. In addition, venture capital companies are also locating in the neighborhood. He said similar clusters of science-generated economic activity are happening in California, Ohio, and other locations in the U.S.

Sharp outlined two waves of innovation in the life sciences, beginning with discovery of DNA’s molecular structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in the 1950s, followed by the sequencing of the human genome in the 1990s. He said a third wave of innovation is developing with convergence of life sciences at the molecular level with engineering, the physical sciences, and mathematics.

Sharp’s research focuses on the molecular biology of gene expression related to cancer, and he shares the 1993 Nobel prize for physiology and medicine. Sharp is also co-founder of two biotechnology companies, Biogen (now Biogen Idec) and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

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