Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have set themselves a goal loftier than Facebook’s net value.
The power couple have pledged $3 billion USD towards medical research over the next decade, saying their true object is to “cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century”. The donation will come from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which the couple founded in December 2015.
This is yet another tech trailblazer who’s turning towards health verticals. Earlier this week, Microsoft, led by uber-philanthropist Bill Gates, said they’ll ‘solve’ cancer with the help of artificial intelligence. Google’s DeepMind team is working with the NHS to find alternative ways computers could diagnose diseases more efficiently. And IBM and MIT will partner to create an AI-based system to help health professionals improve the care for elderly and disabled people.
Zuckerberg pointed to the real problem in health: spending 50 times more money on treating people who are already sick, rather than using those funds to find a cure that would halt the illness in the first place. His donation and initiative is a step towards changing that mindset.
The face of Facebook noted three areas his investment would assist with, including:
- To bring scientists and engineers together
- To build tools and technology that advance research
- To grow the movement to fund more science around the world
Chan added that the team has already committed $600m to creating a new research centre called the Biohub. The Biohub is designed to bring engineers, computer scientists, biologists, chemists, and other innovators together as a super-think tank.
Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates – who has funded his own health research via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – appeared at the event to praise the announcement.
He said the Zuckerberg’s 2100 ultimatum was “very bold and ambitious”, but added that “we desperately need this science”.
There’s no doubt eradicating all disease by 2100 is ambitious, considering new diseases and viruses seem to reveal themselves every year. But, as one expert notes, deep-pocketed philanthropists can make such claims, and take such risks.
“The Chan Zuckerberg announcement is unusual in size but is in keeping with trends amongst today’s biggest donors who want to achieve transformational change, prefer funding prevention over cure and tend to invest in causes and organizations with which they have prior connections,” says Dr. Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent.
“Most donations reflect the ‘philanthropic autobiography’ of the donor and this is no exception.
“She is trained as a pediatrician and recently became a mother, [and] so is aligning her professional and personal experiences with her philanthropic priorities.”