WASHINGTON — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday that he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, are creating a new corporation to advance a variety of social causes — including finding cures to the serious diseases that have resisted the best efforts of modern medicine.
In a post celebrating the birth of their daughter, Max, the couple said they will devote 99 percent of their Facebook shares — worth $45 billion now — to the new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Its goals, they said, will be to promote “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.”
The announcement — written as a letter to their daughter — made it clear that Zuckerberg and Chan see enough possibilities in the advances in medical technology to make such a major investment worthwhile.
“Today, most people die from five things — heart disease, cancer, stroke, neurodegenerative and infectious diseases — and we can make faster progress on these and other problems,” the letter said.
There’s a “real shot” at finding new cures, they wrote — but not overnight. They insisted it would take slow, steady advances, and that the progress might not be visible for years.
“Medicine has only been a real science for less than 100 years, and we’ve already seen complete cures for some diseases and good progress for others,” the couple wrote. “As technology accelerates, we have a real shot at preventing, curing or managing all or most of the rest in the next 100 years.”
Most medical researchers, and even President Obama’s science advisers, are careful about promising outright cures to illnesses like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or various chronic conditions. They’re aware that political leaders in Washington tend to overpromise, as they did with the “war on cancer” rhetoric of the 1970s. Instead, they say the diseases have to be fought one step at a time.
That’s mostly how Zuckerberg and Chan are approaching the issue, too. But their message was more optimistic about the potential for finding outright cures in the long run — as long as it’s measured not in years, but in decades.
“Curing disease will take time. Over short periods of five or ten years, it may not seem like we’re making much of a difference,” they wrote. “But over the long term, seeds planted now will grow, and one day, you or your children will see what we can only imagine: a world without suffering from disease.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the nature of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The story was updated on December 11, 2015.