David R. Liu is the Richard Merkin Professor and director of the Merkin Institute of Transformative Technologies in Healthcare, vice chair of the faculty at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences at Harvard University, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. Liu’s research integrates chemistry and evolution to illuminate biology and enable next-generation therapeutics. His major research interests include the engineering, evolution, and in vivo delivery of genome editing proteins such as base editors to study and treat genetic diseases; the evolution of proteins with novel therapeutic potential using phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE); and the discovery of bioactive synthetic small molecules and synthetic polymers using DNA-templated organic synthesis and DNA-encoded libraries. Base editing—the first general method to perform precision gene editing without double-stranded breaks, and a Science 2017 Breakthrough of the Year finalist—as well as prime editing, PACE, and DNA-templated synthesis are four examples of technologies pioneered in his laboratory. These technologies are used by thousands of laboratories around the world and have enabled the study and potential treatment of many genetic diseases.
Liu graduated first in his class at Harvard College in 1994. During his doctoral research at UC Berkeley, Liu initiated the first general effort to expand the genetic code in living cells. He earned his PhD in 1999 and became assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University in the same year. He was promoted to associate professor in 2003 and to full professor in 2005. Liu became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in 2005 and joined the JASONs, academic science advisors to the U.S. government, in 2009. In 2016 he became a Core Institute Member and Vice-Chair of the Faculty at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Director of the Chemical Biology and Therapeutics Science Program.
Liu has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has earned several University-wide distinctions for teaching at Harvard, including the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize, the Roslyn Abramson Award, and a Harvard College Professorship. Liu has published more than 200 papers and is the inventor on more than 75 issued U.S. patents. His research accomplishments have earned distinctions including the Ronald Breslow Award for Biomimetic Chemistry, the American Chemical Society David Perlman Award, ACS Chemical Biology Award, the American Chemical Society Pure Chemistry Award, the Arthur Cope Young Scholar Award, the NIH Marshall Nirenberg Lecturer, and awards from the Sloan Foundation, Beckman Foundation, NSF CAREER Program, and Searle Scholars Program. In 2016 and 2020 he was named one of the Top 20 Translational Researchers in the world by Nature Biotechnology, and was named one of Nature’s 10 researchers in world and to the Foreign Policy Leading Global Thinkers in 2017. He is the founder or co-founder of several biotechnology and therapeutics companies, including Beam Therapeutics, Prime Medicine, Editas Medicine, Pairwise Plants, Exo Therapeutics, and Chroma Medicine.