$100 million Gift Creates New AIDS Vaccine Research Institute

The Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Institute, a unique collaboration of engineers, biologists, and doctors, was recently established at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston with US$100 million in funding from technology magnate Phillip Ragon to explore how the immune system combats disease, with an initial focus on developing an AIDS vaccine. The gift is unprecedented for MGH and the newly established Ragon Institute will be headed by Bruce Walker, an immunologist and director of the Partners AIDS Research Center, which is now part of the Ragon Institute. 
Ragon, who has a degree in physics from MIT, became drawn to the field of AIDS vaccines after meeting Walker and hearing about his research. Two years ago Walker suggested that Ragon visit AIDS clinics in South Africa and this affected him deeply. “I began to talk with Bruce about what I could do to help,” says Ragon.

“What this money means is that we can launch new collaborations in new areas with people with new perspectives, and do that immediately,” says Walker. The funding will be used to attract researchers from MGH as well as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “What we are going to be able to do is track a lot of talented people and give them license with flexible funding—the license to be innovative and creative and to take some bold chances.”

The Ragon Institute is also partnering with IAVI to conduct preclinical and clinical evaluation of AIDS vaccine concepts developed at the Institute. —By Regina McEnery