Harvard University received a record donation of $350 million for its public health school from the family foundation of real estate developers Gerald and Ronnie Chan of Hong Kong-based Hang Lung Group Ltd.

The gift from the Chan brothers’ Morningside Foundation is focused on addressing pandemics, humanitarian crises, failing health systems and social and environmental threats to health, said Julio Frenk, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. The school will be renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in honor of the Chans’ late father.

The public health school will be the second at Harvard, along with the John F. Kennedy School of Government, to be named for an individual. The Chan family’s donation is a “transformational” gift that will provide resources for researchers and students to address complex threats from around the world, Frenk said.

“This is a gift that is incredibly generous and timely as we’re starting our second century,” Frenk said in a telephone interview. “This allows us to invent the future of public health as we create a base of sustainability for our school.”

The gift, the largest in Harvard’s 378-year history, will be formally announced at a ceremony at HSPH today.

‘Dream Gift’

Funds generated from investing it will go to student financial aid and to help relieve the debt burdens of graduates who want to work in underserved areas of the U.S. and other countries, Frenk said. The money will also support the work of junior faculty and researchers working in innovative fields that don’t qualify for government funding from sources such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Frenk said.

It will help pay for “21st-century” classrooms and computer resources for managing data the school’s long-term research projects, some of which have been accumulating data for more than three decades, he said.

“It’s a dream gift that allows us to dream bigger than we ever have,” he said.

In targeting public health, the Chan donation addresses one of the major unmet priorities in health research, said John Glier, chief executive officer of Grenzebach, Glier & Associates Inc., a Chicago-based philanthropy consulting firm. Public health researchers are competing for increasingly scarce funding to address health threats, such as the current outbreak of Ebola virus, that are becoming more important, he said.

“This enables one of the great schools of public health in this country to strengthen its capacity to bring on singular academic thought leadership and enable research,” he said in a telephone interview.