Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Dr. Priscilla Chan to invest at least $3 billion to cure diseases
OREANDA-NEWS. September 23, 2016. Hoping to unlock a new era of progress in science and health, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, on Wednesday committed at least \\$3 billion over the next decade to prevent, manage and cure all diseases by the end of the century.
“By investing in science today we hope to build a future in which all of our children can live long and rewarding lives,” Chan said in a speech at the University of California, San Francisco’s William J. Rutter Center.
The investment marks the latest major philanthropic effort for the couple, who announced in December they would give away 99 percent of their wealth over their lifetime. Celebrating the birth of their daughter, Max, they formed the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative that month to advance human potential and promote equality, but have primarily focused on efforts meant to improve education.
For Chan, a pediatrician and former teacher, investing in science and health is personal. As a doctor, she has worked with families in the toughest moments of their lives, including those diagnosed with leukemia or who have lost a child.
“In those moments and in many others, we are at the limit of what we understand about the human body and disease,” Chan said.
The couple isn’t only trying to spur new scientific advancements, but change the way scientists and engineers at different universities are working together. After talking to scientists from Nobel laureates to graduate students over two years, the couple believe it’s possible to cure disease in their child’s lifetime.
Investing \\$600 million over the next decade in a new research center called the “biohub,” UCSF, UC Berkeley and Stanford University scientists and engineers are teaming up on efforts to combat infectious diseases and create an “atlas” that maps out cells in the human body and their molecular interactions.
The research center, located near UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, will be led by biochemist and UCSF professor Dr. Joseph DeRisi and Dr. Stephen Quake, a bioengineering and physics professor at Stanford.
“The better we understand these cell types in health and disease, the better we’ll be able to develop new therapies to treat and cure disease in areas ranging from cancer to diabetes,” Quake said.
The couple also selected Dr. Cori Bargmann, a world-renowned neuroscientist at The Rockefeller University in New York, to lead their science initiative. David Haussler, a professor of biomolecular engineering and director of the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz, and biochemist and UC Berkeley professor Robert Tjian are among the Bay Area scientists that will help advise the Chan Zuckerberg Intiative.
The initiative is focusing on curing infectious diseases, heart disease, cancer and neurological diseases. The couple plans to bring scientists and engineers together, build tools and technology, and grow the movement to fund scientific research.
Engineers will help develop tools from artificial intelligence software for brain imaging and machine learning to help analyze data about cancer genes.
“That doesn’t mean that no one will ever get sick, but it does mean that people should get sick a lot less,” Zuckerberg said.
The 32-year-old is following in the footsteps of other tech moguls and philanthropists, including his mentor, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who has poured money into efforts aimed at eradicating malaria, increasing access to HIV treatments and developing vaccines for other infectious diseases.
“It could serve as a catalyst to get others to think more aggressively about research in the health care sector,” said Steven Churchill, president and CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, who called the couple’s contribution “historically significant.”
In 2015, Americans gave \\$29.81 billion to health care, a 1 percent increase compared with the previous year, according to an annual report by Giving USA.
Gates, who also spoke on stage Wednesday, said Zuckerberg brings his risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit, while Chan contributes her experience as a pediatrician.
“Their vision and generosity is really inspiring a whole new generation of philanthropists who will do amazing things,” he said.
Structured as a limited liability company, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has invested millions of dollars in startups such as Andela, which trains engineers in Africa, and most recently Byju, an Indian ed tech company that created an app that includes video lessons.
At the time Chan and Zuckerberg first announced they were donating the bulk of their fortune, much of which is in Facebook stock, the pledge was worth more than \\$45 billion. It will be one of the largest donations in the nation’s history.
The couple also has invested in Bay Area education, opening a new pre-K-8 private school in East Palo Alto to link health care and education for families from East Palo Alto and Menlo Park’s Belle Haven neighborhood.
The couple said their work in curing disease is only beginning.
“My heart is full of hope,” Chan said, “and we’re all eager to get started.”