SAN FRANCISCO: Mark Zuckerberg and his wife on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) pledged $3 billion over the next decade to help banish or manage all disease, pouring some of the Facebook founder’s fortune into innovative research.
“This is a big goal,” Zuckerberg said at a San Francisco event announcing the effort of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative established by the couple.
“But we spent the last few years speaking with experts who think it is possible, so we dug in,” he added.
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, had their daughter Max late last year. Shortly after, they pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook holdings or some $45 billion to “advance human potential and promote equality.”
At Wednesday’s event, Zuckerberg said their goal is to cure all disease, or at least turn catastrophic illnesses from terminal to manageable or preventable within their daughter’s lifetime.
While the funding effort is for the next decade, Zuckerberg and his wife said they hope to achieve their objective of by the end of this century.
Chan, fighting back tears at times, said that curing all disease within Max’s lifetime will not mean children won’t ever get sick, but it would happen less often and be less severe.
New tools for researchers
The first investment being made as part of what the Zuckerbergs hoped would become a “collective” effort will be $600 million for the creation of a Biohub in San Francisco where researchers, scientists and others will work to build tools to better study and understand diseases.
“Throughout the history of science, most breakthroughs have been preceded by the invention of some new technology that lets you see things in new ways,” Zuckerberg said, mentioning the microscope and DNA sequencing as examples.
“Tools also create breakthroughs in how we treat diseases,” he added.
The Biohub will bring together engineers and scientists from three prestigious California universities to help the effort.
“We plan to invest billions of dollars over decades,” Zuckerberg said.
“But, it will take years for these tools to be built and longer to put them into full use. This is hard and we need to be patient, but it’s important,” he added.
Renowned neuroscientist Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was brought on to lead the project.
Zuckerberg took an engineering approach to the challenge, reasoning that there were a handful of big health culprits including cancer and neurological disease so it was “pretty easy” to imagine what types of tools are needed.
He spoke of the potential to put artificial intelligence to work imaging brains or having machine learning tackling analysis of genomes.
Zuckerberg and Chan also hoped that their project would power a movement to fund more medical research around the world.
Taking part in the event on Wednesday was Microsoft billionaire turned global philanthropist Bill Gates, who has made improving health around the world a top goal at the foundation he created with his wife.
Gates praised Zuckerberg and Chan for taking on a “very bold, very ambitious” challenge.
“I have no doubt they will make progress,” Gates said.
“Mark and Priscilla, they are inspiring a whole new generation of philanthropists who will do amazing things.”
Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician, stood by her husband as she assured the gathering, which included prominent medical researchers and local politicians, that her “heart is full of hope” and that all involved were eager to get started.