Mind & body, Research, Science & environment, Technology & engineering

Chan, Zuckerberg pledge $3B to end diseases ‘within our children’s lifetime’

Acclaimed biologists, chemists will serve on the science initiative's advisory boards

Chan and Tjian share a moment

Taking their next bold step in tech philanthropy, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and pediatrician Priscilla Chan have laid out an ambitious plan to invest $3 billion over the next decade to accelerate medical science and eradicate diseases “within our children’s lifetime.”

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic effort dedicated to “advancing human potential and promoting equality,” is taking on science – after investing in education startups – in a long-term effort to cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century. UC Berkeley will play a key role in the endeavor.

“This is hard stuff, but it’s important,” Zuckerberg told a rapt audience of scientists, philanthropists and politicians in an auditorium on Sept. 21 at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus. “This is about the future we all want to build for our children … to leave the world a better place than we found it.”

Zuckerberg also announced the initiative’s first science investment: The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, an independent San Francisco-based research center bringing together scientists from UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford University. Zuckerman and Chan have committed to funding the Biohub with $600 million over 10 years.

“For how great these universities are, it’s been hard to get them to work together,” joked Zuckerberg, who wore his signature gray t-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers.

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.

In the two years of planning their science venture, the couple talked to everyone, they said, from Nobel Laureates to graduate students: “We’ve met some amazing people,” Chan said.

Rockefeller University neuroscientist Cori Bargmann will lead Chan and Zuckerberg’s science initiative as “president of science.” Bargmann is best known for her work on the behavior in the tiny roundworm known as C. elegans.

Wednesday’s unveiling of the Chan Zuckerberg science initiative and the Biohub drew such luminaries as California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.

“It’s amazing that they’re taking on another bold challenge,” said Gates, who recalled being frustrated, along with Zuckerberg, by the lack of vaccines during Africa’s Ebola epidemic. “We need science to go after those tools so that we can really be safe.”

The Biohub will be headquartered in two floors of a building next to the Mission Bay campus, with a satellite site at Stanford. Its co-directors are Joseph DeRisi, professor and chair of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, and Stephen Quake, a Stanford professor of bioengineering and of applied physics.

Jennifer Doudna, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry, best known for her pioneering work on CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing technology, will be a member of the Biohub’s Science Advisory Group.

Robert Tjian, a UC Berkeley professor of biochemistry and biophysics and former president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was among those closely involved in the creation of the Biohub and the larger Chan Zuckerberg science initiative.

Tjian, whose work includes developing single-molecule imaging technologies, will be on the advisory boards of both the Biohub and the larger Chan Zuckerberg science initiative, where he will continue to play a key role in innovative, long-term research collaborations to boost health science and eradicate disease.

“It’s exciting,” Tjian said. “And we’re in it for the long haul.”