The Stirling Prize judges praised the Sainsbury Laboratory for its "stimulating working environment" designed to attract world-class scientists.
RIBA president Angela Brady said: 'All of the shortlisted buildings demonstrate the essence of great architecture; they are human-scale buildings, places to inspire, entertain, educate and comfort their visitors and passers-by.
Every building not only works beautifully from within but has a superb relationship with its surroundings, with a strong interplay between the two.'
The Royal Institute of British Architects' Stirling Prize is now in its 17th year and celebrates the best of new British architecture. Along with the Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University, the shortlist of six includes The Olympic Stadium in London by Populous, New Court in London by OMA with Allies & Morrison, Maggie's Centre in Glasgow by OMA, The Lyric Theatre in Belfast by O'Donnell + Tuomey and The Hepworth in Wakefield by David Chipperfield Architects.
The winner will be announced in Manchester in October.