The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is a United States non-profit medical research institute based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. It was founded by the aviator, engineer, and former trustee Howard Hughes in 1953.
As of 2005, it is one of the largest private funding organizations for biological and medical research in the United States. According to the institute's former president, Thomas R. Cech, the HHMI spends about $1 million per investigator per year, which amounts to annual investment in biomedical research of about $450 million. The institute has an endowment of $18.7 billion, making it the second-wealthiest philanthropic organization in the United States (behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), and the second best endowed medical research foundation in the world (after the United Kingdom's Wellcome Trust).
Initially, the institute was formed with the stated goal of basic research including trying to understand, in Hughes' words, "genesis of life itself." Despite its lofty principles, in the early days it was generally viewed as largely a tax haven for Hughes' huge personal fortune. Hughes was the sole trustee of HHMI and transferred all his stock of Hughes Aircraft to the institute, in effect turning the large defense contractor into a tax-exempt charity. For many years the Institute grappled with maintaining its non-profit status; the Internal Revenue Service challenged its "charitable" status which made it tax exempt. Partly in response to such claims, starting in the late 1950s it began funding 47 investigators researching at eight different institutions; however, it remained a modest enterprise for several decades. In fact it was not until after Hughes' death in 1976 that the Institute's profile increased from an annual budget of $4 million in 1975 to $15 million by 1978. In this period it refocused its mission on genetics, immunology and the rapidly growing field of molecular biology. Since Hughes died without a will as the sole trustee of the HHMI, the Institute was involved in lengthy court proceedings to determine whether it would benefit from Hughes fortune. In April 1984, a court appointed new trustees for the institute's holdings. (The original trustees are: Helen K. Copley, Donald S. Frederickson, M.D., Frank William Gay, James H. Gilliam, Jr., Esq., Hanna H. Gray, Ph.D., William R. Lummis, Esq., Irving S. Shapiro, Esq., George W. Thorn, M.D.) In January 1985 the trustees announced they would sell Hughes Aircraft either by private sale or public stock offering. On June 5, 1985 General Motors was announced as the winner of a secretive five month, sealed-bid auction. The purchase was completed on December 20, 1985 for an estimated $5.2 billion, $2.7 billion in cash and the rest in 50 million shares of GM Class H stock. The proceeds caused the institute to grow dramatically.
HHMI has recently completed building a new research campus in Ashburn, Virginia called Janelia Farm Research Campus. It is modeled after AT&T's Bell Labs and the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology. With a main laboratory building nearly long, it contains of enclosed space, used primarily for research. The campus also features apartments for visiting researchers.
In 2007, HHMI and the publisher Elsevier announced that they have established an agreement to make author manuscripts of HHMI research articles published in Elsevier and Cell Press journals publicly available six months following final publication. The agreement takes effect for articles published after September 1, 2007.
In 2008, the Trustees of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute selected Robert Tjian as the new president of HHMI.