We are thrilled to let you know that the MGH has received the largest philanthropic gift in its history – a $200 million contribution to support the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. This extraordinary gift comes from Phillip (Terry) and Susan Ragon, long-time supporters of the hospital, whose transformational contribution will ensure that the Ragon Institute has the resources in the decades ahead to continue its progress toward finding ways to prevent and cure some of the world’s most complex and burdensome diseases.
It was February 2009 when the Ragon Institute was founded through a $100 million donation – which at that time was the largest gift the MGH had ever received – from the Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Foundation. The overarching vision of the institute has been to harness the immune system to prevent and cure human disease by engaging scientists from a wide range of disciplines to address challenging health problems of global importance. Institute scientists work collaboratively toward specific goals, with a major focus being the development of an effective HIV vaccine.
Bruce Walker, MD, a physician in the MGH Infectious Diseases Division who has been a leading figure in the hospital’s HIV/AIDS clinical and research efforts since the early 1980s, has directed and provided the vision for the Ragon Institute since its inception. The initial Ragon gift provided flexible funding that has enabled the creation of non-traditional collaborative teams that have included immunologists, physicists, engineers, computational and structural biologists, geneticists, chemists and vaccinologists who collectively apply their knowledge and expertise to pursue unusual ideas, take chances, think innovatively and push boundaries.
This model has proved highly successful. Despite decades of attempts to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine – hampered by the diversity of the virus as well as its ability to mutate and elude immune system detection – new knowledge and fresh approaches from the Ragon Institute have helped speed up the arduous journey toward a viable vaccine. A large efficacy trial of an AIDS vaccine developed by Ragon Institute scientists, for example, is now underway in Africa. Also, studies involving a cohort of HIV-infected patients who have the ability to naturally control the virus with their immune systems have opened up promising paths toward the ultimate goal of therapeutic vaccines to harness the immune system to control HIV in those already infected. In addition, Ragon scientists have drawn upon and leveraged their HIV work, applying the knowledge gleaned from one disease to tackle other challenges – including tuberculosis, influenza, Zika and neurodegenerative diseases.
We look forward to following the remarkable achievements that continue to come out of the Ragon Institute. On behalf of the MGH community, we extend deepest thanks to Terry and Susan Ragon for taking the time to truly understand the challenge ahead and for demonstrating in such a tangible and meaningful way their belief in the power of collaboration, innovation and rigorous science to solve some of the world’s most intractable health problems.
Peter L. Slavin, MD
Timothy G. Ferris, MD