Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a goal that’s even more ambitious than connecting the entire world to the internet: He and his wife want to help eradicate all disease by the end of this century. Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are committing USD 3 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate basic scientific research, including the creation of research tools from software to hardware to yet-undiscovered techniques they hope will ultimately lead to scientific breakthroughs, the way the microscope and DNA sequencing have in generations past.
The goal, which they are unlikely to live to see accomplished, is to “cure, prevent or manage all disease” in the next 80 or so years. They acknowledge that this might sound a crazy, but point to how far medicine and science have
come in the last century with vaccines, statins for heart disease, chemotherapy, and so on following millennia with little progress.
“So if you even just assume that we’ll be able to continue to make progress on that same trajectory, then that implies that by the end of this century we will have been able to solve most of these types of things,” Zuckerberg said in an interview. He and Chan have spent the past two years speaking to scientists and other experts to plan the endeavor. He emphasized “that this isn’t something where we just read a book and decided we’re going to do.”
Through their philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the commitment includes USD 600 million to fund a new research center in San Francisco where scientific and medical researchers will work alongside
engineers on long-term projects spanning years or even decades. The goal is not to focus narrowly on specific
ailments, such as bone cancer or Parkinson’s disease, but rather to do basic research. One example: a cell atlas that
maps out all the different types of cells in the body, which could help researchers create various types of drugs.
Chan’s work as a pediatrician seems to be a big driver in their couple’s decision to take up this latest cause.
“I’ve been with families where we’ve hit the limit of what’s possible through medicine and science,” Chan said. “I’ve had to tell families devastating diagnoses of leukemia, or that we just weren’t able to resuscitate their child.”
The couple spoke with The Associated Press in their home in Palo Alto, California, where their infant daughter, Max, had just woken from a nap. Their dog, Beast, came by to sit briefly during the 25-minute interview.
Zuckerberg and Chan hope that their effort will inspire other far-reaching efforts and collaboration in science,
medicine and engineering, so that basic research is no longer relegated to the margins.