Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to invest $3 billion to cure disease

The two hope to cure, prevent and manage all disease by the end of the century.

Updated ·3 min read

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative last year with his wife, Priscilla Chan, in an effort to try to "advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation." The two pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares -- which is worth upwards of $50 billion -- to the cause. Today, the couple held a press event in San Francisco to announce their next big project: curing diseases. Indeed, it has pledged $3 billion over the next decade to cure, prevent and manage all diseases by the end of the century.

That's obviously a pretty lofty goal, but Chan and Zuckerberg believe it's possible. They plan to do this with a three-pronged approach: 1) Bring scientists and engineers together, 2) Build tools and technology to empower the scientific community 3) Grow the movement to fund science. The first step is already underway, as the initiative has already started to partner with scientists, doctors, engineers and universities to achieve this goal. Leading this project is Dr. Cori Bargmann, who will become the initiative's President of Science. A renowned neuroscientist and geneticist, she led the president's BRAIN initiative.

"We spend about 50 times more treating people who are sick than we invest in research so you won't get sick in the first place," said Zuckerberg, adding that public support for this initiative matters.

The first investment is in something called the Biohub, a facility that brings together a group of researchers and engineers from UCSF, Stanford and UC Berkeley to develop new tools to treat disease. It'll serve as a central point for collaborations between experts across disciplines -- engineers, computer scientists, biologists, chemists and others. It will be led by Joseph DeRisi, a PhD in Biochemistry and Biophysics and Stephen Quake, a DPhil in Bioengineering and Applied Physics and Physics.

One of Biohub's first projects is the Cell Atlas, which is to dive deep into the different cell types in the human body and understand the complex interactions between cells. Another one is called the Infectious Disease Project, which is to figure out how to finesse the process of detecting, responding, treating and preventing diseases such as Ebola, HIV and Zika. All of Biohub's findings -- along with everything that is studied in the Chan Zuckerberg Science initiative -- will be open source and available to all.

"We have to be patient. This is hard stuff," said Zuckerberg at the event. "This is about the future that we all want for our children. If there's even a chance that we can cure all diseases, we have to do it. We have the opportunity to leave the world a much better place than when we found it."

At the end of the event, Bill Gates made an appearance to lend his support to the initiative. He praised Zuckerberg and Chan for their 'very bold and very ambitious" plan. Gates, who also has his own charitable organization -- the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- agreed with Chan and Zuckerberg that we need to fund science to help develop preventative tools like vaccines. "Their vision and generosity is inspiring a whole new generation of philantropists who will do amazing things," he said. "We're proud to say that we were here when Mark and Priscilla started this journey."

"My heart is full of hope, and we are eager to get started," said Chan to close out the event. "Let's do this together."