On September 21 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan announced their foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will be donating $3 billion dollars with the goal of curing “all disease” by the end of the century.
At first, it might seem like such a lofty goal is more of a beauty pageant answer than anything — but, the U.S. National Institutes of Health spends more than 10 times as much on Biomedical research each year.
Yet, $3 billion is certainly far from being pocket-change, even if you are founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. In her keynote presentation, Dr. Chan told her family’s story of immigrating to the U.S., her love of learning, and attributing her success as a pediatrician to realizing the constant need of people everywhere to overcome even the most common of diseases. Needless to say, these two have a passion for giving back to the world.
The power couple made it clear that their goal isn’t necessarily to eradicate sickness entirely, but rather to focus on ultimately reducing the frequency and severity of global disease.
At face value, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) appears to be a vague tossing of cash for any and all who have their hands out, when in reality it seeks to disrupt the funding schemes and bureaucracy of modern medical research. Although the initiative won’t necessarily yield results within the coming years or even decades, the $3bn budget will make it possible for medical scientists to take on more lengthy and higher risk projects.
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative: More than a Charity?
It’s interesting to note that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is, in fact, an LLC rather than taking a traditional charity route. This distinction allows Zuckerberg to control his shares, make investments in for-profit companies, as well as being able to contribute to political campaigns, lobbyists, and non-profit organizations.
With so much medical research being stymied due to a lack of immediate results, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative seeks to change the way researchers – medical students especially – can work and collaborate over long periods of time and from various locations worldwide. This also means redirecting efforts spent on grant-writing and focusing on actual research and creative solutions.
The first step of this initiative includes what will be called the “Biohub,” a collaboration between Stanford University, UC San Francisco, and UC Berkley aimed at the development of tools for eradicating certain diseases entirely instead of simply treating them. Using their expected $600 million over the next decade, Biohub will be undertaking a project called “Cell Atlas,” during which the goal will be to create a map of every cell’s function and location in the human body. Once complete, the Cell Atlas will serve as one of the most granular resources for biologists and medical scientists to understand the origins and current status of various diseases.
Evolving the Future of Medical Research
With many young scientists forced into the paradigm of having to “publish or perish,” the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative offers an alternative to the way medical researchers can structure their careers and fund their projects. The hope is to stir a Silicon-Valley style of innovation in medicine, geared human equality, and health on the largest scale possible.
If it’s anything near the global success of Facebook, then our future generations may find themselves living in a much different, and healthier world than that of today.