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$200 Million Gift to Further Vaccine Research at Mass. General Hospital

Software entrepreneurs and philanthropists Phillip Ragon and Susan Ragon have donated $200 million to the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to endow a vaccine research center, according to a release from the hospital.

The largest in Massachusetts General Hospital’s history, the gift will allow the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard to conduct research on how the immune system can prevent and cure human diseases.

The Ragons own the InterSystems Corporation, a database software company based in Cambridge.

The institute, directed by physician-investigator Bruce D. Walker, was established a decade earlier by the Ragons from an initial commitment of $100 million. The institute continues to cross traditional scientific boundaries and uses ideas and perspectives from nontraditional collaborations. The primary focus of the institute has been to find an effective vaccine for AIDS.

“Our organization was started with the support of some of the greatest local institutions in Massachusetts – MGH, Harvard, and MIT,” Susan Ragon said. “While this is a global effort, its local implications for patients and their friends and families are profound.”

Scientists at the institute have made progress in developing an HIV vaccine, which is currently being tested in Africa for its effectiveness.

As a result of research on the HIV vaccine, researchers have been able to contribute to the prevention and treatment of other diseases including influenza, neurodegenerative diseases, tuberculosis and Zika virus as well.

“Solving these difficult health problems demands creative thinking from top scientific minds in different fields coming together to tackle problems,” Walker, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, said. “It also requires flexible funding to enable innovative or unusual ideas to move forward quickly.”

Terry Ragon cited strides made by the institute over the last decade as a reason to pledge more support.

“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,” he said.

Harvard president, Larry Bacow, and MIT president, Rafael Reif, also applauded the Ragons for their sustained efforts in creating a future in which bodies can heal themselves.

“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,” Bacow said. “It is an ambitious—and exciting—vision.”

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