December 19, 16
On February 4, 2009, the presidents of the MGH, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University – Peter L. Slavin, MD; Susan Hockfield, PhD; and Drew G. Faust, PhD; respectively – and special guests Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon gathered at the Charles Hotel to announce creation of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard.
Formed to find new ways of preventing and curing human disease through harnessing the power of the immune system, the Ragon Institute will bring scientists and clinicians together with engineers using the latest technologies in an interdisciplinary effort to better understand how the body fights infections. That understanding will ultimately be applied against a wide range of infectious diseases and cancers, with an initial focus on the need for an effective vaccine against AIDS.
The institute has been founded through a $100 million gift – the largest gift in MGH history – from the Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Institute Foundation, and will be directed by MGH physician-investigator Bruce D. Walker, MD..
“This gift is unprecedented in its nature, and we are truly honored that the Ragons are making such an important philanthropic investment in this collaboration with MGH, MIT and Harvard,” says Slavin. “We are incredibly optimistic about Dr. Walker and his team’s recent laboratory findings, and we are truly inspired by the breadth and depth of the Ragon’s philanthropy that will fuel this groundbreaking research. The wonderful combination of these factors brings great hope to tackling fundamental scientific challenges in infectious diseases.”
Administratively based at the MGH, the Ragon Institute incorporates the work of the Partners AIDS Research Center at MGH. Instead of the typical academic approach, in which individual scientists work independently, the Ragon Institute includes engineering disciplines to facilitate novel experimental approaches and incorporate fresh ways of viewing complex biological systems, with the goal of rapidly advancing innovative, interdisciplinary research to revolutionize the field of immunology.
“Recent scientific advances have brought us closer to the elusive goal of an AIDS vaccine,” says Walker; “but reaching that goal will require broad collaboration to adapt breakthroughs in the physical sciences and engineering to our understanding of interactions between HIV and the immune system. This institute will let top researchers from some of the best institutions in the world apply their full creative potential to problems of tremendous global importance.”
Says donor Phillip Ragon, “By providing flexible funding and by connecting science and engineering at MIT and Harvard with the research and clinical resources of the MGH, we intend to empower many of the world’s best researchers to focus on what they view as the most promising research. We hope to engage them in a multidisciplinary collaborative effort for which there may be no greater benefit – curing the ill and saving lives.” Ragon is founder, owner, and chief executive officer of InterSystems Corporation, a multinational software company based in Cambridge, and Susan Ragon is the company’s vice president of Finance and Administration.
Other Ragon Institute team leaders include Marcus Altfeld, MD, PhD, of the MGH; Dan Barouch, MD, of Beth Israel/Deaconess Medical Center; Laurie Glimcher, MD, of Harvard School of Public Health; and Arup Chakraborty, PhD, and Darrell Irvine, PhD, of MIT. In addition to other investigators, fellows and students from the MGH, MIT, Harvard and its affiliated hospitals, the Ragon Institute will work closely with clinicians and researchers from an MGH-affiliated center in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa – a region often considered the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic – and genomic investigators from the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.
View photos of the event:
Press coverage of the announcement:
“This is exactly what the field needs,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the federal agency leading the vaccine search. “There will be colleagues from MIT involved who think about these things from a very different perspective.” – Boston Globe
“Harvard President Drew Faust today described [the Ragon Institute] as ‘an HIV/AIDS Apollo Project.’ ” – Harvard Science
“A major revolution in the next decade will come from the convergence of biology and the physical sciences and engineering, and the Ragon Institute will be a shining example of this revolution.” – Marc Kastner, Dean of MIT’s School of Science – MIT News
“We have an opportunity to focus on a really substantial problem with a perspective that hasn’t been attempted.” – Chris Love, Professor of Chemical Engineering, MIT – MIT Tech
“Executive pledges $100M to hospital for AIDS research” – USA Today