By Deborah M. Todd
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan on Wednesday pledged more than $3 billion toward a plan to “cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children’s lifetime.”
Speaking through tears at a San Francisco event to announce the initiative, Chan said she hoped to spare parents the pain she had seen while delivering difficult news as a pediatrician.
“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, the limit of our ability to alleviate suffering. We want to push back that boundary,” she said.
The event was attended by business and political luminaries including former Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.
Zuckerberg said science and the medical community have made rapid advancements over the last 50 years, including eradicating smallpox and nearly eliminating polio without the aid of modern technology.
“Today, just four kinds of diseases cause the majority of deaths,” Zuckerberg added in a posting on his Facebook page, citing cancer, heart disease, infectious diseases and neurological diseases. “We can make progress on all of them with the right technology.”
The plan includes creating a bioscience research center, called the Biohub, developing a chip to diagnose diseases, and ways to monitor the bloodstream continuously and map cell types in the body.
Chan and Zuckerberg will donate $600 million over the next decade to the Biohub in San Francisco, bringing together Bay-area researchers and scientists from the University of California at San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.
Two initial Biohub projects will be a Cell Atlas, a map of cells controlling the body’s major organs, and the Infectious Disease Initiative to develop new tools, tests, vaccines and strategies for fighting diseases such as HIV, Ebola and Zika.
The Biohub will be led by University of California, San Francisco professor Joseph DeRisi and Stanford University professor Stephen Quake, whose work includes small molecule screening and biological measurements.
Dr. Cori Bargmann, a Rockefeller University neuroscientist, will lead all of Chan Zuckerberg’s science initiatives.
Any research, tools and material coming out of Biohub, which will work with a network of 10 to 15 laboratories across the world, will be “available to every scientist, everywhere,” Bargmann said.
“If you take great people and set them loose on important problems in an intelligent way and give them a long time horizon there will be progress.”