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Menlo Park's Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announces $3 billion funding commitment for research

 

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, currently headquartered on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park, announced to the world on Sept. 21 that it will invest $3 billion over the next decade in scientific research to "cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century."

It's a big goal, said pediatrician and philanthropist Priscilla Chan, but she assured listeners -- including an online audience that now numbers 3.5 million views on Facebook Live -- that she and her husband, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have spoken with scientific experts who think it's possible.

Mr. Zuckerberg described the initiative's plan: "We're going to focus on bringing scientists and engineers together to build new tools that can empower the whole scientific community to make breakthroughs on the four major disease categories." Those categories are the areas of disease most people die from, he said: heart disease, cancer, infectious disease and neurological disease.

The couple's philanthropic initiative was announced in December 2015, when they announced the birth of their daughter, Max. They said that through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, they would put 99 percent of their Facebook shares into a limited liability company that, over their lifetime, will fund investments in nonprofit, for-profit and public-sector initiatives in health, education and technology.

So far the effort has emphasized support for education programs, such as personalized learning and the launch of The Primary School, of which Ms. Chan is CEO. The school combines "primary education and primary care," according to its website, and serves students in Belle Haven and East Palo Alto. The school recently opened to serve early childhood students, but indicates it will eventually serve students in grades K-8.

Scientific research

The Sept. 21 announcement launched the initiative's scientific research arm. Cori Bargmann, a neuroscientist and genetics researcher, will be its president of science.

The first project to be funded will be the investment of $600 million over 10 years to create a "Biohub," which will bring together researchers from UCSF, UC Berkeley and Stanford, with headquarters in San Francisco. The effort will be led by Stephen Quake, a Stanford professor, and Joseph DeRisi, a UCSF professor. The first two projects of the initiative will be the development of a "Cell Atlas," which will map out all of body's cells; and the "Infectious Disease Initiative," an effort to speed the development of diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to address diseases, particularly viruses such as HIV, Ebola and Zika.

Bill Gates, tech billionaire, philanthropist and reportedly a mentor to the couple, also made an appearance at the announcement, which took place at UC San Francisco. Mr. Gates and his wife Melinda Gates have supported significant public health advances with their philanthropic efforts, but, Mr. Gates noted, there is more need. Referring to AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, he said, "We cannot end those diseases with the tools we have today," he said. "We need more science."

According to a spokesperson for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, while the initiative's current headquarters are located on Santa Cruz Avenue, it is a temporary location and "relocation is imminent."

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