Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Can we cure all diseases in our children’s lifetime?

That was the question the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, posed at a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announcement yesterday, which promised a starting pledge of $3 billion towards curing all diseases during Mark Zuckerberg’s infant daughter’s lifetime. He also subsequently published a Facebook note to that same effect.

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It is the starting point of an earlier pledge made as a promise after a daughter was born to Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. The two had written a letter about the hope that their daughter gave them for the future and had set aside an estimated $45 billion for an initiative to cure all disease by the end of the century.

The first phase of funding by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to that end will be a $600 million investment in a new initiative called Biohub. Biohub is a team from Stanford, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco, tasked with finding new ways to fight disease.

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Zuckerberg’s plan is encapsulated in the published Facebook note, part of which reads;

“Focusing on tools suggests a roadmap to help cure, prevent and manage all diseases. If we can help develop new tools to see each of the major disease categories in new ways, then we can enable scientists around the world to make breakthroughs in those diseases faster.

Building tools will require new ways of organizing and funding science. Most science funding today is small grants less than a few hundred thousands of dollars. This may help pay for scientists’ salaries or part of a lab, but it’s not enough to do major tool development.

Tool development often requires groups of scientists and engineers working together over long periods of time. For example, the internal combustion engine was developed by scientists and engineers over decades. Eventually, this tool unlocked many inventions, including cars and aircraft. But it took a big investment, large scale collaboration and a long time horizon.

That brings us to our plan. We’re going to focus on bringing scientists and engineers together to build new tools that can empower the whole scientific community to make breakthroughs on the four major disease categories.”

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative during the announcement made at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (named after the Facebook founder after he made a $75 million donation in 2015) named Dr. Cori Bargmann, a professor at the Rockefeller University and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, as the head of its science-funding branch.

Bill Gates joined Mark Zuckerberg on the stage for the announcement and also got a spot on the Facebook wall of the Facebook founder who thanked him for stopping by and called him a role model and mentor both in technology and philanthropy.

A fitting tag considering that the Gates Foundation has spent $36.7 billion in smaller, targeted grants, with the aim of achieving very similar goals.