Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today announced that he will3 invest $3 billion over the next 10 years in research to prevent all forms of disease.
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The effort will be managed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, to which Zuckerberg committed $45 billion of his personal fortune last fall.
The research effort is called Chan Zuckerberg Science, and although it has global ambitions, its core efforts will be based in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, it will develop a "biohub" partnership between the University of California San Francisco, University of California Berkeley, and Stanford university.
Steve Quake, a Stanford professor who will co-direct the biohub, said at a press conference at UCSF today that it will focus on problems that cannot be solved in traditional academic environments or with government funding.
Its first effort will be creating a cell atlas of the human body. "It's amazing that nobody really knows how many different cell types there are in the human body," Quake said. The atlas will provide detailed characteristics for each cell type that could be useful to researchers attempting to identify how cells transmit disease.
Beginning in October, faculty members in any field from the three universities can apply for five-year "investigatorships." Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg initiative, they will allow scientists to pursue their research with fewer requirements than typical government or foundation grants, Quake said.
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Joseph DeRisi, a biochemist at UCSF, described his colleagues' "incredible frustration about our ability to respond to threats." He said biohub will enable quicker responses to new disease threats like the Zika virus. "There won't be any debates," he said, about whether or not to fund quick-response efforts to emerging diseases.
In addition to the biohub, Zuckerberg's initiative will also develop "challenge networks" of 10-15 scientists around the world who are working on the same disease research. And all of their research will be available to all scientists everywhere.
Ultimately, Zuckerberg said, he intends to cure and eradicate disease "in our children's lifetimes." Joining Zuckerberg on stage at the press conference was Bill Gates, whose foundation is also working to eradicate disease. Gates said that Zuckerberg's goal was ambitious, but that "I can't think of a better partnership to take it on."