By Ed Diokno
Three universities in the San Francisco Bay Area are coming together to launch a biomedical science center funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and pediatrician Priscilla Chan, his wife. The $600 million center, known as the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, is the first investment made by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic company created last year to improve education and cure disease, among other goals. Researchers at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Stanford University, will work together at the center, which will be located on UCSF’s campus.
Over the next decade, Chan says the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will invest $3 billion in a sweeping effort to cure all diseases in the lifetime of today’s children.
“We are at the limit of our ability to alleviate suffering,” Chan said Thursday morning at an event in San Francisco. “We want to push back at that boundary.”
Chan and Zuckerberg have been meeting with scientists, doctors, and engineers in hopes of “curing, preventing, or managing all diseases in our children’s lifetime.” In her opening statement at the event, Chan said, “Mark and I believe this goal is possible … And after we talked with a lot of top scientists, we realized that they do too.”
“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,” said Zuckerberg on his Facebook page.
“Today, just four kinds of diseases cause the majority of deaths. We can make progress on all of them with the right technology.
“Throughout history, most scientific breakthroughs have been preceded by the invention of new tools to help us see problems in new ways — like the telescope, the microscope and DNA sequencing.
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“It’s not hard to imagine the modern tools required to accelerate breakthroughs in today’s four major disease areas. So we’re going to focus on bringing scientists and engineers together to build these new tools and technologies.
In 2015, Chan and Zuckerberg pledged in an open letter to their newborn daughter to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares during their lives for charitable purposes. “Partnering with experts,” they wrote, “is more effective for the mission than trying to lead efforts ourselves.”
The result is the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, saying it would give as much as $45 billion to charity over the course of their lifetimes.
In introducing the broader $3 billion science initiative, Chan, the daughter of ethnic Chinese refugees who fled Vietnam in the 1970s, set the stage, sometimes tearfully, by sharing her personal insights as a pediatrician who has had to deliver such tragic news as telling families their child has leukemia, or that the hospital could not resuscitate their child.
“We want to dramatically improve every life in Max’s generation,” Chan said, referring to the couple’s 10-month-old daughter, Maxima, whose birth last year inspired a commitment from Chan and Zuckerberg to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares over their lives toward improving education and health prospects for this and future generations.
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