Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, have announced a plan to invest 3 billion dollars over the next decade to “cure all diseases” within the lifetime of today’s children. At an event on the 21st, in San Francisco, Chan said “We are at the limit of our ability to alleviate suffering. We want to push back at that boundary.”
Last year, Zuckerberg and Chan announced the creation of philanthropic project called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which they projected would give as much as 45 billion dollars to charity in their lifetimes. Today’s announcement is the first to give a real sense of how this will organization will function, aside from a few investments in educational startups around the world.
Zuckerberg outlined the most widespread health problems in the world today, with cancer, heart disease, neurological disease, and infectious disease topping the list. The organization plans to focus the most money and attention on these areas.
Zuckerberg also listed a number of specific technologies including AI software to help with brain imaging, machine learning tools to help analyze large databases of cancer genomes, continuous blood stream monitoring to diagnose diseases early, and a “cell atlas” of all the different types of cells in the body and their various states in different circumstances. The latter would represent a major breakthrough, and would serve as reference material for scientists to quickly design drugs for different diseases., which could improve treatment for diabetes, infection, cancer, and many others.
The plan will begin with a 600 million-dollar investment in a San Francisco based “BioHub” which will bring together scientists and engineers from Stanford, UCSF, and UC Berkeley. The hub will provide an unprecedented opportunity for Bay Area scientists to collaborate. It will recruit promising young scientists, provide a communication hub, and support long-term research. The focus for now will be on developing new tools for science, which Zuckerberg points out, often precede breakthroughs in understanding. Elaborating that AI and machine learning technology could improve treatment for a variety of diseases, Zuckerberg promised that tools created by the project would be “available to every scientist, everywhere.”
The BioHub will be located in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district, adjacent to UCSF. It will be led by biochemist Joseph DeRisi and bioengineering professor Stephen Quake. The hub will also focus on research and rapid-response plans for global health threats such as the Zika virus.
Zuckerberg’s philanthropic mentor, Bill Gates, also spoke at the event, calling the initiative “very bold, very ambitious.”