The prolific philanthropist and namesake of the Wyss Institute is honored for his contributions to the public good
By Lindsay Brownell
(BOSTON) — Hansjörg Wyss has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the field of Business, Corporate, and Philanthropic Leadership. Mr. Wyss joins more than 200 other new members for 2019 who are world leaders in the arts and sciences, business, philanthropy, and public affairs. These elected members join with other experts to explore challenges facing society, identify solutions, and promote nonpartisan recommendations that advance the public good.
The Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock, and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. The Academy’s dual mission remains essentially the same 239 years later with honorees from increasingly diverse fields and with the work focused on the arts, democracy, education, global affairs, and science.
“I am deeply honored and humbled to be elected to an organization whose goal is to improve the lives of people around the world, and I am eager to engage with my fellow members to continue to make progress solving the biggest problems that plague humanity today,” said Mr. Wyss. “I believe that science and engineering are paving the way toward a more healthy, sustainable, and equitable future for all, and it is crucial that those disciplines be supported and enabled to achieve their full potential.”
Mr. Wyss is dedicated to helping save the world’s last remaining wild places, encouraging scientific and medical breakthroughs, and empowering the most vulnerable in society. His long-standing support for science, engineering, and medical training include large gifts that enabled Harvard University and four Swiss universities to create multi-disciplinary scientific institutes, including the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, to produce ground-breaking research in a variety of fields.
Founded in 2009 with a $125 million donation from Mr. Wyss to Harvard (the university’s then-largest single gift ever) and followed by an additional $125 million gift in 2013, The Wyss Institute has grown from a name on paper to an internationally recognized research institution that has generated over 2,000 scientific publications, 2,500 patent filings, 50 licensing agreements, and 27 startup companies to date. Its unique model for integrating scientists and engineers from highly diverse fields with experts who have industrial experience and business development professionals has helped bridge the gap between academia and industry, enabling groundbreaking technologies to leave the lab and enter the marketplace.
Among those accomplishments is a new immunotherapy for cancer, currently in clinical trials run by Novartis; organs-on-chips that emulate human organs and could one day replace drug testing on animals; soft exosuits to help rehabilitate stroke patients and protect workers in physically demanding jobs; and a molecular diagnostic platform that can detect diseases at room temperature and without the need for lab equipment.
“It goes without saying that the Wyss Institute would not exist without Hansjörg Wyss’ generosity and constant commitment to our mission of taking inspiration from nature to create new breakthrough technologies that we transition into the marketplace as quickly as possible,” said the Wyss Institute’s Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We are also equally proud of the leadership he has demonstrated as a philanthropist who is helping to save our planet in so many different ways, and this is a wonderful and well-deserved honor for him.”
In addition to supporting scientific discovery and commercialization, Mr. Wyss has created several charitable organizations to implement his philanthropic vision, including the Wyss Foundation, the AO Foundation, and PeaceNexus. He has donated more than $450 million through the Wyss Foundation to help permanently protect more than 27 million acres of land and wildlife habitat in the United States, Africa, South America and Europe – more than any other living individual. In addition, Mr. Wyss’ support is helping countries, including Peru, Canada, and Mexico, to establish science-based fishery management policies and protected areas.
Co-founded by Mr. Wyss in 1984, the AO Foundation is a medically guided nonprofit led by an international group of over 20,000 surgeons in 124 countries who specialize in the treatment of trauma and disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and aims to improve surgical practices to optimize the outcomes for patients.
In the same year that the Wyss Institute at Harvard University was founded, Mr. Wyss helped create PeaceNexus, a nonprofit foundation that brings together and advises government institutions, non-governmental organizations, and businesses to expand peacebuilding capacity in conflict areas around the world.
Mr. Wyss has also endowed chairs in medicine and support of research, education, and training at a wide range of universities and hospitals, including Clemson University, University of Washington, University of Mississippi, University of Maryland, University of South Alabama, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Massachusetts General Hospital, and provides scholarships and fellowships in conservation, music, medicine, business and the arts at institutions around the world, including in Africa, Europe, and the United States.
His philanthropy is made possible by his success in starting and growing a medical research and design company, the Pennsylvania-based Synthes USA, whose products have helped millions of patients recover from skeletal and soft tissue trauma injuries. Through The Giving Pledge, he has committed to giving at least half his wealth to charitable causes; he has already made more than $1.35 billion in charitable gifts since 2004. Mr. Wyss has been recognized by Forbes as one of the U.S.’s top 10 givers to philanthropic causes multiple times.