Dana Farber’s Joint Visiting Committee Symposium

November 5th, 2017


The most important thing that a philanthropist can do is set off a chain that leads to an extraordinary discovery.

There is no risk, none, that we will over invest, over care or overdue it with respect to solving these problems. What does that mean? It means that all of us have to worry not about the mistakes we make but about the things we do not do, the opportunities that we miss.  All of us have to be prepared to take risks and bet on young genius.

This century will be a century about victory against disease, success in limiting pain and suffering, large scale extension of life and substantial augmentation of human capability.  And it is probably going to be the best thing to happen to mankind.

In 15th century Florence was not the biggest or richest city in the world but most important city in the world because of what human minds in Florence were doing.  What they were doing artistically, culturally and scientifically with respect to what was most important to human thought at that time.  I would say that Boston has exactly that potential right now because if you draw a circle with a six mile radius from where right where we are now, you have more life science talent within that circle by a factor of 2, than in any comparable 6 mile circle on this planet and its most important thing that’s happening for humanity.

I said something in my inaugural address as President of Harvard: We will take risks, we will fail many times because the greatest failure would be if we never had any failures because that would mean we had not taken the risks that the challenges of the moment demand.  All of your who are involved in supporting research, allocating research dollars need to make sure that you are taking risks, that  you are gambling on the things that could change the world.

My story of late stage cancer makes the point that cancer doesn’t need to define you and won’t define your life.  And with work you are doing here, it won’t define or end the life of the large majority of people who experience it. That, based on my own experience, is a hugely important thing.