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Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan pledge $3bn to curing and managing diseases

Harshith Mallya
22nd Sep 2016
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They say becoming a parent changes one's perspective on everything. On December 2, 2015, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan wrote an open letter to their daughter Max, describing in detail how and why they planned to set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative with the ambitious goal of advancing human potential and promoting equality. The letter also noted,

Our initial areas of focus will be personalised learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities. We will give 99 percent of our Facebook shares – currently about $45 billion – during our lives to advance this mission.

So three weeks after announcing a $50 million investment in Indian personalised learning startup Byju's, Mark and Priscilla announced today that they would pledge $3 billion to curing and managing diseases.

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One by one, Priscilla and Mark outlined their optimistic vision of teaming up with scientists to help cure, prevent or manage all diseases within the lifetime of the next generation of kids. Mark noted,

Medicine has only been a modern science for about a century, and we've made incredible progress so far. Life expectancy has increased by 1/4 of a year per year since then, and if we only continue this trend, the average will reach 100 around the end of this century.

He also mentioned that a combination of social change and advances in engineering could help tackle the four main kinds of diseases - heart disease (10.8 million, 19.2 percent), cancer (8.2 million, 14.6 percent), infectious disease (8.5 million, 15.1 percent) and neurological disease like stroke (6.8 million, 12.1 percent), which cause a majority of deaths. Of the rest, almost half are due to accidents and injuries (5.8 million, 10.3 percent) or otherwise unrelated to disease (3.1 million, 5.5 percent). Mark said that throughout the history, most scientific breakthroughs have been preceded by the invention of new tools to help us see problems in new ways. He cited three supporting examples as well - the telescope, the microscope and DNA sequencing.

Based on this theory, Mark extrapolated that it is not hard to imagine the modern tools required to accelerate breakthroughs in four major disease areas. The Chan Zuckerberg initiative is going to focus on bringing scientists and engineers together to build these new tools and technologies.

Dr Cori Bargmann, a world-renowned expert in neuroscience and genetics, is joining the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to lead this initiative. We are committing to invest $3 billion over the next decade in this initiative to help scientists cure diseases.

Biohub

The first project is creating the Biohub, a new research hub to bring scientists and engineers together from Stanford, UCSF, Berkeley, and the world-class engineering team being built at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Mark also noted that they would invest $600 million for the Biohub. He also added a disclaimer not to expect immediate results, he said,

The science initiative is a long term effort. We plan to invest billions of dollars over decades. But it will take years for these tools to be developed and longer to put them into full use. This is hard and we need to be patient, but it's important.

The three main ways they aim to achieve the end goals are:

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Mark noted that the initiative was about the future they want for their daughter and children everywhere. He said,

If there's a chance that we can help cure all diseases in our children's lifetimes, then we will do our part. Together, we have a real shot at leaving the world a better place for our children than we found it.


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