Massachusetts General Hospital has received the largest gift in the hospital’s history – $200 million – to endow the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. This landmark contribution from philanthropists and longtime hospital supporters Phillip T. (Terry) and Susan M. Ragon comes as the institute marks the 10th anniversary of its founding, made possible by an initial $100 million commitment from the Ragons in 2009. The new gift strengthens and secures the future for institute scientists as they continue pursuing novel ways to harness the immune system to prevent and cure disease.
“Terry and Susan Ragon are two of these enlightened thinkers who through their generosity and vision are saving lives.”
The Ragon Institute is directed by physician-investigator Bruce D. Walker, MD, of the MGH Infectious Diseases Division, who has built and nurtured a vibrant research enterprise by breaking down traditional scientific boundaries and leveraging ideas and perspectives from nontraditional collaborations.
“Solving these difficult health problems demands creative thinking from top scientific minds in different fields coming together to tackle problems. It also requires flexible funding to enable innovative or unusual ideas to move forward quickly,” said Dr. Walker, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Smart, engaged, diverse people who are working, planning and scheming together and constantly challenging one another – this is what makes Ragon such a dynamic, motivating and fun environment. Terry and Susan Ragon’s generosity has made this happen.”
Quest for HIV Vaccine
One of the major challenges that has been a focus for Ragon scientists has been the quest to develop an effective vaccine against HIV, a goal that has eluded the best efforts of researchers around the world for three decades. In recent years, however, Ragon scientists have made significant strides toward overcoming certain complicated obstacles. A vaccine developed by scientists at the institute is currently being tested in a large efficacy trial in Africa.
Beyond the AIDS clinical trial, studies involving certain HIV-infected patients known as “elite controllers” – whose immune systems are able to control the virus without medication – have provided important information that could result in vaccines that induce a similar kind of HIV control by the immune systems of infected patients, Dr. Walker said. The lessons learned and knowledge gained from the work with HIV also has informed research aimed at preventing and treating other complicated scourges – including influenza, tuberculosis, Zika and neurodegenerative diseases.
The expanding knowledge and encouraging progress achieved during the institute’s first decade inspired the Ragons to increase their support in a meaningful and long-lasting way. “It is an honor and a great privilege to have the opportunity to participate in such an exciting effort to profoundly affect the lives of many people who struggle with infectious diseases such as HIV,” said Terry Ragon, who is founder, owner and CEO of InterSystems Corporation, a database software company based in Cambridge. “We are confident and excited that we are well along the path to a vaccine, and hopefully, a cure as well, for HIV and ultimately a broad range of other diseases.”
“While this is a global effort, its local implications for patients, and their friends and families are profound.”
Optimism for Ragon Institute Future
Susan Ragon, vice president of Finance, Administration, and Recruitment at InterSystems, also expressed pride in the work of the past decade and optimism for the future. “After a decade of steady progress, we could not be more proud of the success and achievements resulting from the interdisciplinary teamwork that is a hallmark of the Ragon Institute,” she said. “Our organization was started with the support of some of the greatest local institutions in Massachusetts – MGH, Harvard and MIT. While this is a global effort, its local implications for patients, and their friends and families are profound.”
The presidents of the three founding institutions offered their deepest appreciation for the foresight and wisdom that compelled the Ragons to build and sustain what has become a leading global research enterprise.
Harvard President Larry Bacow, PhD, voiced gratitude for the confidence and generosity the Ragons have shown. “Optimism is nothing without pragmatism, and Terry and Susan Ragon have both in abundance,” he said. “They understand that the road to cures for some of the world’s most devastating diseases must run through institutions like Harvard, MIT and MGH, and their latest gift will help to create a future in which our bodies heal themselves. It is an ambitious—and exciting—vision.”
The Ragons’ Unwavering Commitment
Rafael Reif, PhD, president of MIT, agreed, adding: “It has been inspiring to watch the Ragon Institute grow as a model for what is possible when engineering, science and medicine converge. I am proud of the research the Ragon has enabled, and grateful to Terry and Susan for their extraordinary leadership and philanthropy, which, in a single decade, have opened remarkable new paths to progress against devastating human diseases.”
Calling the Ragons “true visionaries,” Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president, applauded their unwavering commitment to making the world a better, safer and healthier place. “The Ragon Institute is a hub where brilliant minds come together to collaborate and solve intractable health problems,” he said. “Terry and Susan Ragon are two of these enlightened thinkers who through their generosity and vision are saving lives. Their support, leadership, passion and confidence enable the Ragon Institute to think boldly, be daring and aim high – now and long into the future.”
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