Zuckerberg and Chan’s $3bn plan to ‘cure, prevent or manage all diseases’

22 Sep 2016

Mark Zuckerberg. Image: Alessio Jacona/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With $3bn to invest and a loose target of the year 2100, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are targeting a huge leap forward in medical research to fight against disease.

Ultimately wanting to help scientists “cure, prevent or manage all diseases” within the lifetime of their daughter, the duo’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is not short of funding or expertise.

The $3bn pledged will be spent over the next decade, said Facebook founder Zuckerberg, with the early stages already taking shape.

Future Human

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The first project is the creation of Biohub, into which the initiative is investing $600m. It will bring together scientists and engineers from Stanford, Berkeley and University of California, San Francisco, ultimately working with its own engineering staff.

This is because major scientific breakthroughs in the past came on the back of the invention of new tools, according to Zuckerberg, “like the telescope, the microscope and DNA sequencing”.

He explained: “It’s not hard to imagine the modern tools required to accelerate breakthroughs in today’s four major disease areas. So we’re going to focus on bringing scientists and engineers together to build these new tools and technologies.”

The new push to defeat four kinds of diseases in particular – cancer, heart disease, infectious diseases and neurological diseases – will be led by Rockefeller University neuroscientist Dr Cori Bargmann.

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Image: Facebook

Announcing the plans, Chan spoke of sparing parents the pain she herself had witnessed while delivering difficult news as a paediatrician.

“In those moments and in many others, we’re at the limit of what we understand about the human body and disease, the science behind medicine [and] the limit of our ability to alleviate suffering. We want to push back that boundary,” she said.

Zuckerberg stated that life expectancy has risen by one-quarter of a year, every year, in the past century. At that rate, we’ll be living until we’re 100 by 2100.

“The science initiative is a long-term effort,” said Zuckerberg. “We plan to invest billions of dollars over decades. But it will take years for these tools to be developed, and longer to put them into full use. This is hard and we need to be patient, but it’s important.

“This is about the future we want for our daughter and children everywhere. If there’s a chance that we can help cure all diseases in our children’s lifetime, then we will do our part. Together, we have a real shot at leaving the world a better place for our children than we found it.”

Mark Zuckerberg image: Alessio Jacona/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic