Chan Zuckerberg Initiative pledges $3bn to fight diseases

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan launch Chan Zuckerberg Science to “cure, prevent or manage all disease”

  • By Emily Cashen | Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are following in the footsteps of other successful tech entrepreneurs in donating vast amounts of wealth to charitable causes

On September 21, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced the launch of its new $3bn research technology programme, which aims to cure all global diseases by the end of the century.

Speaking at a launch event at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr Priscilla Chan drew on her experience as a paediatrician, explaining how “the limit of the science behind medicine leads to suffering”. Through investing in medical research and encouraging collaboration between expert scientists and engineers, the Initiative hopes to eliminate such suffering “within our children’s lifetime”.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will fund a $600m San Francisco-based research centre, called the Biohub

As part of the multi billion-dollar project, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will fund a $600m San Francisco-based research centre, called the Biohub. Here, a team of researchers and scientists from UCSF, Berkley and Stanford will work together closely to find new ways to fight diseases.

At the Biohub, research will be focused in part on some of the world’s most deadly diseases. “Today, most people die from four types of diseases”, Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post, listing heart disease, cancer, infectious diseases and neurological diseases as the world’s biggest killers.

“There are common strategies for addressing those diseases, and common tools and technology we can develop to better understand and fight them more effectively.”

One of the tools that Chan Zuckerberg Science hopes to develop is a pioneering ‘cell atlas’ technology, which would map the type, location and molecular properties of the trillions of cells in the human body. Through extensively mapping cell types and mutations, a better understanding of cell behaviour could lead to improved treatment for life-threatening diseases such as cancer.

Artificial intelligence may also play an essential role in the Initiative’s ‘transformative technology’ project. The Facebook founder suggested that medical AI could be used to better interpret brain imaging, fuelling advances in treating neurological diseases.

In addition to funding these new tech tools, Chan Zuckerberg Science will also establish an Infectious Disease Initiative at the Biohub, which will explore new ways to develop diagnostic tests and vaccines for such deadly diseases as HIV, and the Zika and Ebola viruses.

“In bringing together three world-class research organisations in UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford, the Biohub represents the kind of cross-institutional collaborative environment that will be necessary for addressing the most pressing life science challenges of our time”, said UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. “I have no doubt that the Biohub will be the catalyst for major research breakthroughs.”

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s pledge is set to fuel a growing research technology market. The project launch comes just days after industry giant Microsoft announced that it would ‘cure’ cancer within the next ten years, by using computer science to reprogramme diseased cells. As funding pours in for tech-centred scientific research, the next big medical breakthrough may just come courtesy of modern software.