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Purnell W Choppin: led the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from hope to prominence

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: (Published 02 August 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n1887
  1. Bob Roehr
  1. Washington, DC, USA
  1. bobroehr{at}
Photo credit: Paul Fetters

Howard Hughes was one of the most flamboyant billionaires of the mid-20th century. Think Elon Musk or Richard Branson, then add another healthy dollop of ego and media showmanship. As a young man, Hughes built and flew record breaking fast aeroplanes, created a company to build them, and gained control of Trans World Airlines, one of the few globe spanning carriers. As a sideline he ran a Hollywood motion picture studio and squired a bevy of starlets with names such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Ava Gardner. He made a lot of money too.

Howard Hughes Institute

He had a lifelong interest in medicine and established the namesake institute in 1953. Initially it was little more than a tax dodge. Hughes would donate stock to the institute and write off the charitable contribution against tax. But he maintained voting control of the stock and of his company. Congress investigated, changed the law, and slowly the institute began to spend more money supporting research. …

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