‘Hacking’ all diseases – Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan aim to ‘cure, prevent and manage’ all disease.
Couple plans to invest $3bn over next decade to help scientists develop and utilise tools such as artificial intelligence and blood monitors to treat illnesses
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have laid out plans to invest $3bn over the next 10 years with the not insignificant goal of tackling all diseases.
“Can we cure, prevent or manage all disease by the end of this century?” asked Zuckerberg, speaking in front of a packed lecture theater at the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) William J Rutter Center.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will focus on some of the world’s biggest killers, including heart disease, cancer, infectious diseases and neurological diseases.
One of its biggest investments is to be a $600m “Biohub” at UCSF, which will bring together scientists and engineers from Stanford, Berkeley and UCSF – who haven’t collaborated in this way before – to develop tools to treat diseases.
The second focus will be transformative technology, all of which will be made available to all scientists everywhere.
“Throughout the history of science, most of the major scientific breakthroughs have been preceded by some new tool and technology that allows you to see in new ways,” explained Zuckerberg. “The telescope helped us understand astronomy and the universe, the microscope helped us understand cells and bacteria to help us develop treatments for infectious diseases, while DNA sequencing and editing helps us fight cancer and genetic disorders.”
Zuckerberg suggested that artificial intelligence could help with brain imaging to treat neurological diseases, machine learning could be used to analyse cancer genomes, and chips and blood monitors could identify diseases quickly. “These are the kinds of tools we want to focus on building at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,” he said.
The acclaimed American neurobiologist Cornelia Bargmann, who will lead the initiative, gave the example of a “cell atlas”, a comprehensive resource that maps the locations, types and molecular properties of all of the cells in the human body.
“We need this to develop new understanding and cures for diseases in all areas of medicine,” she said.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a limited liability company that the couple uses to make donations and investments to advance their philanthropic causes. It was launched at the birth of the couple’s first daughter, Max, in December 2015. The couple has committed 99% of their Facebook stock, valued at $45bn, to the initiative, which makes charitable donations and for-profit investments.
The organisation initially focused on education, funding the Indian company BYJU’s, which helps students learn maths and science, and the Nigerian company Andela, which trains African software developers. It has now turned its attention to science.
The organisation will achieve its objective by focusing on building tools and technology, bringing scientists from across the world together and growing a movement to fund more scientific research.