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Zuckerberg, Chan start $3 billion initiative to cure disease

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(Bloomberg) — Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are pledging to spend more than $3 billion over the next decade to work on curing diseases.

“Can we work together to cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children’s lifetime?” Chan said Wednesday onstage at an event in San Francisco for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “Mark and I believe that this is possible.”

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Chan, a pediatrician, spoke through tears about how she’s had to tell parents their child couldn’t be resuscitated, or give a diagnosis of leukemia. The couple plans to work with scientists, doctors, engineers and universities to achieve their goal, in part by building tools and technology. The program will be overseen by Cori Bargmann, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University in New York.

“This is a big goal and we thought this was really aggressive when we got started,” Facebook co-founder Zuckerberg said. “But when you get into it, one of the first things that strikes you is medicine has only been a modern science for about a century.” After speaking with experts, the couple believes it’s possible, he said.

The first investment in science will be $600 million over 10 years to fund a research center, called the Biohub, where experts from different fields can collaborate on scientific questions. The center is being created as a partnership with Stanford University, University of California at San Francisco and UC Berkeley, the initiative said in a statement.

Philanthropic pledge

After the birth of their daughter, Zuckerberg and Chan pledged to allocate 99 percent of their wealth to philanthropic causes during their lifetimes, such as promoting equality and curing diseases. When the pledge was announced in December, it was valued at $45 billion. Facebook’s stock has appreciated more than 20 percent since then.

Zuckerberg earlier this year asked Facebook shareholders to approve a new voting structure for its stock, so he could sell and give away shares without losing his majority control of Facebook.The couple has already started their initiative in education, hiring Jim Shelton, the former deputy secretary of education in the United States, to oversee their efforts.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corp. and the world’s richest man, also appeared onstage at the event to support the initiative. Gates has donated more than $30 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which works to fight hunger, disease and poverty, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“Only through science can we get an HIV vaccine or a malaria vaccine,” Gates said. “We desperately need this science. Their vision, their generosity, is really inspiring a whole new generation of philanthropists that will do amazing things.”

Zuckerberg, who ranks fifth among the world’s richest people, said there’s the potential to invest in tools that could be applicable to understanding and solving many diseases, such as artificial intelligence software to learn more about how the brain works, continuous bloodstream monitoring to catch diseases early, and a map of all the different cell types in the body to help researchers who are designing drugs.

“It’s going to be years before the first tools get built, and years after that before they actually get used to cure diseases,” he said.


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