Press release

Lifetime Achievement Award for Professor Sir Philip Cohen

Published on 17 March 2023

Professor Sir Philip Cohen was last night celebrated for his outstanding scientific career when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at Scotland’s Life Sciences Awards 2023 ceremony.

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Pic shows Prof Sir Philip Cohen with Dr Allison Beattie (left) and Anne Muir, from the University’s Research and Innovation Services team


The event took place at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and saw awards bestowed across a series of categories recognising achievements in skills development, innovation, investment, innovative collaboration and business leadership.

Professor Sir Philip, founding director of Dundee’s MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (PPU), was congratulated on his outstanding contribution to the industry and the impact of his research, which has helped establish the University as an international centre of excellence in life sciences.

He said, “It is a great honour to have received a Lifetime Achievement Award for the contributions that my research team has made over more than 50 years to the understanding of ‘phosphorylation’, a biological control mechanism that regulates most aspects of cell life.  

“For 25 years no pharmaceutical or biotechnology company had any interest in what I was doing but the situation could not be more different now. Today, the enzymes that regulate phosphorylation, called protein kinases, have become the pharmaceutical industry’s most popular class of drug target and 75 new drugs have been approved for clinical use since 2001 that target particular kinases.

“They have led to major improvements in the way that we now treat cancers and some other diseases with annual worldwide sales approaching $100 billion per annum. The important take home message is that it may take years or even decades until fundamental knowledge about a particular area reaches the stage where it becomes obvious how it can be exploited to improve health and/or create wealth.

“This shows how important it is for Governments to continue to provide sustained long term funding for basic research or massive opportunities will be missed. The history of protein phosphorylation is an excellent example of this.”

Professor Sir Philip is among the most honoured scientists in the UK, receiving a host of awards over the course of an illustrious career, including election to the Fellowships of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of London (1984), The Pfizer Award for Innovative Science in Europe (1999), The Prix van Gysel of the Belgian Royal Societies of Medicine (2003), The Debrecen Award for Molecular Medicine from Hungary, The Rolf Luft Prize of the Karolinska Institute, Sweden (2006), the Swiss Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine (2007), Foreign Associate of the USA National Academy of Science (2008) and the Australian Academy of Science (2014), the Medical Research Council’s Millennium Medal (2013) and the Albert Einstein World Award of Science (2014).

He has published nearly 600 research papers and according to Thomson Scientific, Philadelphia, he was the world’s second most cited scientist in the field of biology and biochemistry from 1992-2003. Among his major findings was the discovery of how insulin works.

Professor Sir Philip has made major contributions to our understanding of protein phosphorylation and its role in cell regulation and human disease. Abnormalities in phosphorylation cause many diseases, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s. The drugs that target protein kinases have revolutionised the treatment of many cancers, saving millions of lives.

Throughout his career Professor Sir Philip has been an exceptional mentor of talented young researchers. Well over 100 PhD students and postdoctoral scientists have trained in his laboratory, with the vast majority now working in senior roles as research leaders in academia and industry.

He was a driving force behind the building of the Wellcome Trust Biocentre at the University, which opened in 1998, and the Sir James Black Centre, opened in 2006, which form part of the ‘citadel of science’ that stands out on the city landscape, with the Life Sciences research complex now home to over 800 scientists and associated staff.


Grant Hill

Senior Public Affairs Officer

+44 (0)1382 384768