Credt: Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, pledged $3 billion to medical research over the next 10 years. Their goal: To "cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century." The monies are to be distributed through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
With this announcement, which came on September 21, 2016, Chan Zuckerberg becomes one of many technology leaders focusing on health. Others include:
- Google's DeepMind unit, which is working with the National Health Service to develop a way to use computers to more diagnose diseases more accurately
- IBM and MIT, which are working together to develop artificial intelligence-based systems that could help doctors improve the care of elderly patients and patients with disabilities
- Microsoft, which is trying to "solve" cancer by using artificial intelligence tools
- The Gates Foundation, which has worked for more than 15 years to fight malaria and improve health and wellbeing all over the world
There’s no doubt that advances in technology have made a tremendous impact to transform and accelerate medical research. According to Zuckerberg, 50 times as much money is spent on treating diseases as finding cures—and therein lies the problem. Chan Zuckerberg intends to invest in bringing scientists and engineers together, develop tools and technology to accelerate research, and widen the movement to fund science throughout the world.
While he and Chan acknowledge achieving their goals will not be easy, that’s an understatement. All over the world, health agencies, foundations, and charities are spending significantly more than $3 billion a year on medical research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has an annual budget of $32 billion; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than $7 billion; and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), $4.7 billion.
In addition, several private foundations, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute ($8 billion in 10 years), the Gates Foundation (more than $10 billion), and Britain’s Welcome Trust ($1.3 billion over the next 5 years) have goals similar to Chan Zuckerberg. In the United States, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent about $58.8 on medical research and development in 2015.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative could make a real impact on health worldwide. However, it will likely take years before the couple's funding leads to new medical treatments and even longer before these treatments can be used to help to patients.