Billionaire husband-and-wife team Priscilla Chan, a trained pediatrician, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will invest around $3 billion over the next 10 years into a series of science-led projects designed to “cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children’s lifetime.”
The announcement, made last night by the two in San Francisco and alongside Bill Gates (and streamed on Facebook), will see about $600 million of the funds funneled into a so-called Biohub over the next decade.
The first project, called Cell Atlas, will seek to create a map that describes the different types of cells that control the body's major organs.
The second project, known as the Infectious Disease Initiative, will attempt to make new tests and vaccines to tackle infectious diseases, including HIV, Ebola, Zika, and others.
This research hub, which is based in San Francisco, will also bring Bay-area academic researchers together, Chan said, including those from UC San Francisco, Stanford University and UC Berkeley. She added that whatever comes out of this lab will be available to other scientists.
The money will come from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which the two created back in December 2015. Zuckerberg has a personal fortune of around $50 billion and has committed to give away 99% of his wealth.
Chan said in her address: “We believe that the future we all want for our children is possible. We set a goal: Can we cure all diseases in our children's lifetime? That doesn't mean that no one will ever get sick. But it does mean that our children and their children should get sick a lot less. And that we should be able to detect and treat or at least manage it as an ongoing condition.”
Critics were quick to point out that this figure is far less than the $30 billion-plus spent by the NIH and the more than $51 billion spent by PhRMA members on R&D spend each year, who are all trying to achieve the same goal.
This project and investment is one of the latest in a string of wealthy donors seeking to help combat or cure some of the world’s biggest diseases.
Dr. Beth Breeze, director of the center for philanthropy at the University of Kent, said: “The Chan Zuckerberg announcement is unusual in size but is in keeping with trends amongst today's biggest donors who want to achieve transformational change, prefer funding prevention over cure and tend to invest in causes and organisations with which they have prior connections.”
Recent investments include from former Facebook ($FB) president and billionaire Silicon Valley veteran Sean Parker, who in April announced he would inject $250 million into the immuno-oncology research field in an effort to boost cancer survival rates. Two months later, he also revealed that he would be helping fund what could be the first-ever CRISPR human trial.
The Facebook alumni join the estate of the billionaire shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig, who donated $540 million to 6 cancer centers in 2014, and Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who pledged $500 million to cancer researchers at Oregon Health & Science University in 2013, as seeking to help speed up research into deadly diseases.