Dr. Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician and wife of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, began to tear up before a crowd in San Francisco on Wednesday as she recounted her experience treating children struggling with chronic diseases.

She said she recalled thinking: What else could she have done for them?

Chan and Zuckerberg announced Wednesday they would seek to answer that question by committing $3 billion over the next decade to try to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases by the end of the century — an audacious goal and the latest effort by Silicon Valley philanthropists to help advance medical science.

advertisement

The couple said their new philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will attempt to bring scientists and engineers together, invent new technologies, and encourage the funding of basic science.

“It doesn’t mean that no one will get sick,” Zuckerberg said. The goal, he said, would be to ensure that people get sick less often, or be able to better manage their diseases.

The effort will include a $600 million project to establish a cooperative known as the Biohub, involving scientists and engineers at the University of California, San Francisco, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, Chan and Zuckerberg said.

The Biohub’s first two projects are already planned. One will be the development of a “cell atlas” of the human body to characterize all cell types in the human body and to detail interactions within each cell. The other will be an infectious disease initiative aimed at developing new drugs, diagnostic tests, and vaccines against diseases that are still prevalent in many parts of the world, such as HIV, Ebola, and Zika.

“The funding seems to fill a gap,” said Dr. Jonathan Lim, CEO of Ignyta, a San Diego cancer drug and diagnostics company. “They’re tackling basic science and prevention, which tend to be relatively less well-funded areas, compared to translational and clinical efforts.”

Lim called the initiative a “lofty ambition” and an “incredibly strong statement” of commitment to investing in concrete projects with the potential to combat diseses. “I’m just a big fan of moving the needle for patients,” he said.

Cori Bargmann, a Rockefeller University geneticist tapped by Chan and Zuckerberg to lead the effort, said the couple’s mission seemed “heart-stopping” in its scope. But she also said that long time horizon gives scientists leeway.

“We can look at projects that will pay off in 20 years or 50 years,” Bargmann said. “To me, that is what makes the Chan Zuckerberg initiative feasible.”

Chan and Zuckerberg established their new initiative in December and said it would focus on health, education, scientific research, and energy. The couple said they would donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares — worth $45 billion at the time — to the new initiative.

They join several other billionaires who have put big money behind public health goals.

Sean Parker, the cofounder of Napster, has committed $250 million to develop new cancer treatments. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading a coalition of philanthropists putting up $100 million for a separate cancer initiative. And philanthropist and entrepreneur Paul Allen committed $100 million in March to an initiative that backs risky, cutting-edge science that more conventional funders might avoid.

Billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch have also given tens of millions to cancer research.

And Bill Gates funds public health projects around the world, including malaria and polio prevention efforts, through his charitable foundation.

At the end of Wednesday’s event, Gates came on stage to offer his support to Zuckerberg and Chan.

He said the new project was “very bold and very ambitious,” but that he couldn’t think of a better pair to tackle such an ambitious goal.

“We’ll all be proud to say that we were here when Mark and Priscilla started this journey,” he said.

Meghana Keshavan contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

  • My sincere thanks for Chan Zuckerberg’s incredible initiative.

    I hope Dystonia is one of the diseases included in this effort. My son suffers with Cervical Dystonia and is keeping it somewhat in check with Botox shots.

    The total number of those with Dystonia is estimated to be 500,000 although that number is thought to be low because the Dystonia organization suspects there are many more misdiagnosed cases. This is partially due to medical schools not focusing on the disease. In a seminar on Dystonia, one Doctor who is now a specialist in Dystonia said Dystonia was mentioned in passing in one of her classes.

    Because of the relatively low number of cases, Dystonia does not attract the level of money it needs for research.

    If Dystonia is not included in Dr Zuckerberg’s effort, I respectfully request it’s inclusion.

  • To: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan
    My name is Michael Moeller from Bloomingdale, New Jersey. I am writing you in an effort to gain some help with my family situation. I have triplet twelve year old boys who unfortunately all suffer from Cebral Palsy (brain injury). Two of them, Zakary and Tyler were diagnosed just a few weeks after they were born (prematurely). My third son Matthew was diagnosed when he was a year old. Tyler and Zakary are very involved medically. They cannot sit, stand, talk, feed, or toilet themselves. They also suffer from Epilepsy, vision issues (CVI), and have feeding tubes. Both of Tyler and Zakary require twenty four hour a day care for every aspect of their lives. They cannot do anything independently. Matthew has dysplasia Cebral Palsy, which effects his walking. He also suffers from vision problems, spasticity and anxiety. In 2016 we had over 160 doctors’ appointments and spent 29 days in the hospital mostly because of uncontrolled seizures. This does not include therapies that they need which are Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy.
    My wife Dawn was also diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2004 when she was pregnant with my sons. She has a great doctor in Ney York who manages here care. She requires monthly medication infusions. My wife is unable to work, due to the fact that she has to manage the care for our children. I work full time as a Police Officer. I also needed back surgery a year ago because of any injury. Zakary and Tyler are approaching 100lb and it is more and more difficult getting them around.

    My family is covered by medical insurance through the New Jersey Health Benefit Plan. I have Horizon as the provider through my employer. I have learned that my son’s physical therapist has not been receiving payment for her services since November 1, 2016. The Therapist has spent numerus hours on the phone with Horizon trying to figure out what the problem is, without any luck. My wife then called Horizon and also spent over an hour on the phone, to find out that the State of New Jersey has drastically reduced the amount they will pay for Physical Therapy, Chiropractor and Acupuncture. She was told by Horizon that the Sate made these changes effective November 1, 2016. The state health care plan will only pay up to $52.00 for Physical Therapy out of network. She was also told that we can use an in network provider with a ten dollar co-pay. Unfortunately, Horizon does not have any in network pediatric physical therapist in my area. My wife told Horizon that we were never notified of any change in our coverage. Horizon told my wife that no one was notified of the change and that she should have checked their web page. My wife then looked on Horizons web page and could not find anything regarding the change to the plan. I then checked with my employer, who also had no idea of the change and was never notified by anyone. While speaking with a co-worker they only knew of the change because they were told while they were getting treatment that the insurance company has not been paying for it anymore.
    My children require therapies several times a week. There has been no problem with insurance coverage up to November 1, 2016. I was forced to stop physical therapy for my children because I cannot afford to pay for it. I do not think that any physical therapist will accept up to $52.00 for therapy. Tyler and Zakary have been on at least twelve different medications to try and control their seizures and they have been unsuccessful. Their neurologist suggested that we try medical marijuana to help control their seizures. My wife applied to the state and was issued a medical marijuana identification card to purchase the medical marijuana. The medical marijuana has made a huge difference in helping to control their seizures. Again unfortunately, it is not covered by any insurance. The Dispensary in New Jersey is thirty one percent higher in cost than any other state and they only accept cash. As of right now it cost me between $750.00 and $1,000.00 per month for this treatment. I make a decent salary but I cannot possibly pay for the physical therapy on top of all my other bills.

    I know I have a very rare situation, but these cuts affect my family drastically. I have emailed the state insurance board of my situation but have not heard back from anyone. I am asking for any help that you can give me regarding this situation. My sons are not receiving physical therapy until this can be resolved. Lastly, I want to say that taking my kids to an in network provider that is not close to me will be a huge problem. My two sons are in wheelchairs and require the transportation of equipment with them including oxygen and suction machines. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

    Michael Moeller
    8 Captolene Ave.
    Bloomingdale, N.J. 07403
    Email: moellerztm@gmail.com
    Phone: Home 973-492-2109, Cell 973-901-1191

  • Mark, got the key component to kill cancer. Can also cure all disease, but have to get home to white house to do that. And also there’s more I can bring to the table. Just trying to help.

  • Jennifer’s comment -We already know how to *cure* disease. Stop eating crap foods and drinks, get enough sleep, get more exercise and stop poisoning yourself with *cures*.

    Go to Africa and tell the people there to eat healthy, exercise , the ones who are dying of AIDS, MALARIA!!!!!! I hope they spear you with a sharp object

  • Hooray! Finally someone without political interest and enough money to make a difference is stepping in where those of us in the healthcare industry have failed to do so. I sincerely hope that autologous stem cell therapy is going to be a big part of this initiative. With Stanford University involved, I now have hope that we will soon be curing disease instead of spending billions of dollars a year managing symptoms.

    • We already know how to *cure* disease. Stop eating crap foods and drinks, get enough sleep, get more exercise and stop poisoning yourself with *cures*.

      These billionaires don’t give toss about you. They are after an excellent tax write off.

  • 1% of the NIH budget for the next decade.

    I say we return our tax rates to the levels of the 1950s (back when America was Great!) and keep public health in the capable hands of the qualified professionals.

    As nice a gesture as this might be, from a well meaning billionaire, the next hundred billionaires are not going to be so generous.

    • You are exactly correct, these billionaires have hoarded TRILLIONS of $$$ over the last couple of decades and donating a few hundred million is chump change for these greedy bastards. Tax the hell out of them and use the money to provide affordable health care, education, housing and fix/ upgrade the failing infrastructure in this country…AND slash the military-industrial budget while we’re at it!

A roundup of STAT’s top stories of the day in science and medicine

Privacy Policy