Joseph Schlessinger, PhD

Joseph Schlessinger, PhD
​William H. Prusoff Professor and Chair of Pharmacology, Department of Pharmacology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Joseph Schlessinger, PhD | Class of 2016

​A leader in oncology research, Dr. Schlessinger is renowned for his work in the field of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and for elucidating their intracellular signaling pathways. Dr. Schlessinger discovered that RTKs such as the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) form dimers upon binding of their extracellular ligands. He demonstrated that once these proteins dimerize, they become activated, autophosphorylate, and subsequently induce their downstream, intracellular signaling pathways. This principle has proved to be fundamental to activation of the majority of surface receptors and for information flow from the cell surface into intracellular compartments.

He demonstrated that protein-protein interactions through SH2 and SH3 domains and other small protein modules are essential for regulation of signal transduction activity. He discovered the SH2/SH3 adaptor protein Grb2 and showed that Grb2 links activated EGFR with Ras signaling. Dr. Schlessinger's discovery that activated EGFR facilitates the assembly of signaling molecules serves as a prototype for interactions between different protein modules crucial for the control of every aspect of signal transduction. He used biochemical, genetic and structural approaches to elucidate the mechanism of RTK activation at atomic resolution and demonstrated that dysfunction of these receptors causes various human cancers, such as those driven by mutations or amplification of the EGF receptor gene. 

These pioneering studies provided the conceptual foundation for developing a new class of targeted cancer therapies directed against kinases, leading to the discovery of many successful cancer drugs. To date more than 20 kinase inhibitors have been approved for clinical use. These drugs have become front-line cancer therapies and are the harbinger of other rationally targeted cancer therapies, including sunitinib and vemurafenib, two drugs discovered in companies Dr. Schlessinger founded.

Career Highlights

​2014  BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award
2010  Pezcoller Foundation-AACR International Award for Cancer Research
2009  Order of Danica Hrvatska Medal, Republic of Croatia
2008  Elected Foreign Member, Croatian Academy of Science
2006  Dan David Prize, Dan David Foundation, Tel Aviv University
2006  Elected Foreign Member, Russian Academy of Sciences
2004  Elected Member, Institute of Medicine
2004  Elected Member, European Academy of Sciences
2001  Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2000  Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
2000  J. Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine
1995  Ciba-Drew Award in Biomedical Research
1995  Antoine Lacassagne Prize
1984  Levinson Prize
1974  PhD, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel