The Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research was the result of Silvio Garattini, then a young professor at Milan University Institute of Pharmacology, meeting Mario Negri, a jeweler and philanthropist. Silvio Garattini had spent some time visiting companies in the United States, and had been struck by how differently scientific research was done there, compared to Italy. He was particularly interested in the idea of a foundation, an organization with the flexibility of a private body which, with its non-profit aims, could work in the interests of the public.
Mario Negri (1891-1960) was the Milanese philanthropist who made it possible, in his will, to establish the Institute. He had always been interested in medicine and biology, and in the 1950s he acquired a small pharmaceutical company, called Farmacosmici. Then, personally following its scientific programs, he contacted Silvio Garattini, who at the time was coordinating a group of young pharmacologists doing research work at the Milan University Institute of Pharmacology.
Over the years, Mario Negri financed several research programs, and soon realized how restrictive and rigid was the university – which was going through a major crisis at the time - with all its inadequacies.
In 1960 Mario Negri died of cancer. His will specified that part of his estate should go to found a research institute, and he specified its features and aims in detail. Professor Silvio Garattini was nominated as its director, as chief of the group. Before he died Mario Negri had agreed with Garattini on how the new institute should be established.
Once all the necessary burocratic and legal permits had been obtained (for recognition as a no-profit institution – now a foundation) as required under Decree No. 361 of the President of the Italian Republic, dated 5 April 1961, work started on a building in Quarto Oggiaro, a suburb of Milan, and on 1 February 1963 the new organization began working, with a ‘historic core’ or 22 people. Just to mention a few of the outstanding group, there was Luigi Valzelli, Valentino Palma, Emilio Mussini, Luciano Morasca, Lella Bizzi and, in particular, Alfredo Leonardi.
The Mario Negri Institute was the first private Italian foundation dedicated entirely to biomedical research. It was an agile structure, like a private body, but dedicated to the public interest as its earnings were always ploughed back for research.