David Searls received undergraduate degrees in philosophy and in life sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a PhD in biology from the Johns Hopkins University. During a postdoctoral fellowship at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia he turned his attention to computational biology, and received a Master's in Computer and Information Science from the University of Pennsylvania. He then spent seven years at the Unisys Corporation in artificial intelligence research and development, including work on logic-based expert systems and computational linguistic approaches to DNA sequence analysis.
In 1991 he returned to Penn as Research Associate Professor of Genetics, with a secondary appointment in Computer and Information Science. During this time he co-founded the meeting series Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) and was a founding board member of the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB).
In 1995 he moved to SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, where he became VP of Bioinformatics. At the time of the GlaxoSmithKline merger in 2001, he was appointed Senior VP, responsible for informatics support at five sites in the US and Europe. He left GSK in late 2008, and is now an independent consultant. He currently serves on the Informatics Advisory Committee of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Foundation, the Protein Databank (PDB) Advisory Committee, the Nomenclature Committee of the International Union of Pharmacology (IUPHAR), the UniProt Scientific Advisory Board, and several advisory panels for university-based research institutes.