Massachusetts General Hospital has announced a $200 million commitment from Phillip Terrence Ragon and Susan Ragon to endow a vaccine research center they helped establish in 2009 with a $100 million gift.
The largest gift in Mass General's 208-year history will endow the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard — established with a gift from the Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Foundation, at the time the largest gift ever to the hospital — with the goal of ensuring continued progress in finding ways to prevent and cure some of the world's most complex and burdensome diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and influenza.
According to Mass General, the flexible funding provided by the couple's initial gift has supported collaborative teams of immunologists, physicists, engineers, computational and structural biologists, geneticists, chemists, and vaccinologists — a model that has proved highly successful. While the diversity of the HIV virus and its ability to mutate and elude immune system detection have hampered global attempts to develop a HIV/AIDS vaccine, Ragon Institute researchers have made significant strides in recent years. A large efficacy trial of an AIDS vaccine developed by the institute's scientists is now under way in Africa, for example, while studies involving a cohort of HIV-infected patients whose immune systems are able to control the virus have opened up promising paths toward the development of therapeutic vaccines.
In 2007, Terry Ragon — the founder and sole owner of InterSystems, which sells database software to hospitals and banks — met Bruce Walker, 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 1980s. After Ragon joined Walker on a trip to Durban, South Africa, to visit doctors treating AIDS patients, he and his wife committed $100 million over ten years to start an institute focused on harnessing the immune system to prevent and treat diseases that have a global impact. The Ragons, who signed the Giving Pledge in 2017, have committed more than $400 million to MGH to date, and Terry Ragon has served on the hospital's board since 2014.
“Solving these difficult health problems demands creative thinking from top scientific minds in different fields coming together to tackle problems," said Walker, who directs the institute and also is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "It also requires flexible funding to enable innovative or unusual ideas to move forward quickly. 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.”
"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. "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."
(Photo credit: Massachusetts General Hospital/Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard)