Priscilla Chan announces the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to “cure, prevent or manage all disease” by the end of the century during a news conference at UCSF Mission Bay in San Francisco on Wednesday. Picture: REUTERS/BECK DIEFENBACH
Priscilla Chan announces the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to “cure, prevent or manage all disease” by the end of the century during a news conference at UCSF Mission Bay in San Francisco on Wednesday. Picture: REUTERS/BECK DIEFENBACH

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook CE Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan have pledged more than $3bn toward a plan to "cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children’s lifetime".

Speaking through tears at the announcement on Wednesday in San Francisco, Chan said she hoped to spare parents the pain she had seen while delivering difficult news as a pediatrician.

"We’re at the limit of what we understand about the human body and disease, the science behind medicine, the limit of our ability to alleviate suffering. We want to push back that boundary," she said.

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The event was attended by business and political leaders including former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and California lieutenant-governor Gavin Newsom.

Zuckerberg said science and the medical community made rapid advancements in the past 50 years, including eradicating smallpox and nearly eliminating polio without the aid of modern technology.

"Today, just four kinds of diseases cause the majority of deaths," Zuckerberg said, citing cancer, heart disease, infectious diseases and neurological diseases. "We can make progress on all of them with the right technology."

The plan includes creating a bioscience research centre, called the Biohub, developing a chip to diagnose diseases, and ways to monitor the bloodstream continuously and map cell types in the body.

Chan and Zuckerberg will donate $600m over the next decade to the Biohub in San Francisco, bringing together Bay-area researchers and scientists from the University of California at San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.

Two initial Biohub projects will be Cell Atlas, a map of cells controlling the body’s major organs, and an infectious disease initiative to develop new tools, tests, vaccines and strategies for fighting diseases such as HIV, Ebola and Zika.

The Biohub will be led by University of California, San Francisco professor Joseph DeRisi and Stanford University professor Stephen Quake, whose work includes small molecule screening and biological measurements.

Dr Cori Bargmann, a Rockefeller University neuroscientist, will lead all of Chan Zuckerberg’s science initiatives. Any research, tools and material coming out of Biohub, which will work with a network of 10 to 15 laboratories across the world, would be "available to every scientist, everywhere", Bargmann said.

"If you take great people and set them loose on important problems in an intelligent way and give them a long time horizon there will be progress."

Reuters