Philip Bourne was trained as a physical chemist in the mid to late 1970s and obtained his PhD in 1979 at the The Flinders University of South Australia. He moved to the University of Sheffield to do postdoctoral research during 1979-1981, followed by a move to Columbia University, New York, in 1981. In 1995 he moved to University of California, San Diego, where he was a Professor in the Department of Pharmacology. In 2014, he moved to NIH to become its Associate Director for Data Science.
He is known for writing the book Unix for VMS Users (1990) and for being co-developer of the Combinatorial Extension algorithm for the three-dimensional alignment of protein structures, together with I. Shindyalov (1998). In 1999 he became co-director of the Protein Data Bank. He was president of the ISCB (2002–2003). He is a fellow of the American Medical Informatics Association since 2002 He is founding Editor in Chief of PLoS Computational Biology (2005-). In 2007 he co-founded SciVee. Bourne is an editor of the popular Ten Simple Rules series of editorials published in the PLoS Computational Biology journal. He has served as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Industrial Alliances and a professor of pharmacology at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He is an advisor to the Hypothes.is project and Associate Director for Data Science at the National Institutes of Health where his projects include managing the Big Data to Knowledge initiative.
He is author of numerous scientific articles and book chapters and editor of the Structural Bioinformatics textbook and Pharmacy Informatics.