Facebook Pledges $3B to End Disease

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, M.D., have pledged $3 billion to medical research over the next 10 years. Their goal is to "cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century."

With the Sept. 21 announcment, the Chan Zuckerberg initiative becomes one of many focusing on health. Other technology leaders include:

  • Google's DeepMind unit, which is working with the National Health Service to develop a way to use computers to 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 the elderly 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 well-being all over the world.

The Chan Zuckerberg pledge includes a $600 million commitment to fund a medical-science research center—the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub—in San Francisco, which will bring together researchers from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and Stanford University, according to a UC Berkeley news release.

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.

He and Chan, a pediatrician, acknowledge that achieving their goals will not be easy. All over the world, health agencies, foundations, and charities are already spending significantly more than $3 billion a year on medical research. The National Institutes of Health has an annual budget of $32 billion; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than $7 billion; and the Food and Drug Administration, $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 those treatments can be used to help to patients.