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The Power of Science

Former St. Jude faculty member helps fund sickle cell disease research at the hospital.

By Kerry Healy

David and Mary Phillips pose in a garden.

David Phillips, PhD, and Mary Phillips

David Phillips, PhD, and his wife, Mary, are firm believers in the power of medical science to find better treatments and cures. Phillips, a distinguished scientist, professor and biotech entrepreneur, is a former researcher for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The couple recently made a generous gift in support of the hospital’s sickle cell disease research.

“The focus of my work at St. Jude was initially to study membranes of red cells, which subsequently led us to platelets and their role in thrombosis (the formation of blood clots),” Phillips says. “St. Jude has always had a sickle cell program, and I became interested in the disease early in my career.”

Phillips served for 12 years in the hospital’s Biochemistry department, first as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of his mentor, Martin Morrison, PhD, and later as a faculty member. The couple and their two sons then returned to their native California, where he worked as a senior scientist at the Gladstone Foundation Laboratories for Cardiovascular Disease and as a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

“Since leaving UCSF, I have had the opportunity to co-found three biotech companies,” Phillips says. “Two of these, COR Therapeutics and Portola Pharmaceuticals, were involved in the discovery and development of novel antithrombotics.” These drugs prevent the formation of blood clots.

We want to help find a cure. We want to make the lives of these patients better.

David Phillips, PhD


This work rekindled the Phillips’ interest in sickle cell disease. Understanding the recurring pain, organ damage and early death faced by many of these patients, Phillips and his wife resolved to financially participate in research at St. Jude.

Under the direction of Mitchell Weiss, MD, PhD, St. Jude Hematology chair, scientists are using a sophisticated gene editing technique to modify sickle cell patients’ DNA to correct the disease in the lab.

“It’s exciting to see the technology at St. Jude,” Phillips says. “The work they are doing is just terrific and has potential to revolutionize the treatment of sickle cell disease.

“The hospital has made a great commitment in terms of sickle cell disease—to the patients and to the research,” he says.

St. Jude is a place of great integrity and innovation,” Mary adds. 

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