Since HIV/AIDS emerged as a global health problem nearly thirty years ago,scientists have made significant gains and impressive breakthroughs in our understanding of the disease and how to treat it. Nonetheless, the development of an effective HIV/AIDS vaccine – the best hope for ending the epidemic – remains an elusive target.
The complexity of the task is underscored by the infinite variability of the virus, its Houdini-like capacity to escape immune system attack and the inability – so far – of the world’s best scientific minds to overcome these and other well-identified obstacles to vaccine development. To overcome such hurdles, existing research efforts must be complemented and bolstered with additional brainpower, fresh perspectives, enhanced cross-disciplinary collaborations, and the resources necessary to create and implement innovative solutions.
The Ragon Institute was officially established in February 2009 at MGH, MIT and Harvard with a dual mission: to contribute to the accelerated discovery of an HIV/AIDS vaccine and to establish itself as a world leader in the collaborative study of immunology. Founded with a commitment of $100 million from Mr. and Mrs. Ragon, the institute is structured and positioned to significantly contribute to a global effort to successfully develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine by:
Creating non-traditional partnerships among experts with different but complementary backgrounds (e.g., engineers, basic immunologists, computational biologists, immunogeneticists, clinicians)
Providing a means for rapidly funding promising studies (e.g., elite controllers, innovative viral vectors) and emerging concepts in the field (e.g., innate immune system memory);
Integrating key facets of current vaccine development efforts that have tended to follow separate tracks (e.g., seeking a combined antibody and T-cell solution)
Providing a substantial pool of accessible, flexible funding that will help lower the threshold for scientists to pursue risky, unconventional avenues of study that are unlikely to attract funding from traditional sources. Such funding will encourage innovation, compress the time it takes to conduct bench-to-bedside research and attract new minds to the field.
The Institute creates a singular opportunity and environment to engage scientists, engineers and clinicians in challenging research for which there may be no greater benefit – saving lives and curing the ill.