News and analysis
September 21, 2016

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Pledges $3 Billion for Science Research


Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced Wednesday a $3 billion commitment over the next 10 years to "cure, prevent, or manage all diseases in our children’s lifetime."

Of that $3 billion, CZI will spend $600 million to create a "biohub" in San Francisco, where scientists and engineers from Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at San Francisco will collaborate on disease-eradication research.

Basic science research with an emphasis on curing disease is the second focus area the organization has identified since it was established in December by Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, physician Dr. Priscilla Chan. Education was the first.

"By investing in science today, we hope to build a future where all children live long and rewarding lives," Dr. Chan said at a news conference in San Francisco.

During the event, Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged the magnitude of the goal but said his confidence reflects his belief that engineers like him can "take any system and make it much, much better than it is today."

Supporting Science

The CZI science program will have three main components: fostering collaboration between scientists and engineers, building tools and technology that will be available for all researchers worldwide, and leading a movement to encourage governments and philanthropy to provide more financial support for science research.

Leading the effort will be Cori Bargmann, a neuroscientist and geneticist who heads the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at Rockefeller University. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, she previously led the team overseeing the brain-research effort announced by President Obama. The biohub will be run by scientists Joe DeRisi of the University of California at San Francisco and Stephen Quake of Stanford University.

Among the projects the program will tackle are creating an atlas of all the cells in the body, engineering human stem cells, and building databases that support research. Starting in October, science faculty from the three partner universities will be eligible to apply for grants intended to support research that most grant makers would consider too risky to fund.

Praise From Bill Gates

The couple cited several people well-known in the charity world who influenced their decision to focus on science research. One was Marc Kastner, president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, a collaborative of several large grant makers, including the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Simons Foundation.

The couple sought guidance from the alliance for about a year on how to support science research before making their announcement, according to Mr. Kastner and Doron Weber, vice president for programs at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
“What’s most impressive is how carefully they did this,” Mr. Kastner said in an interview with The Chronicle. “How they sought out brilliant scientists from a wide range of fields, consulted over the period of a year, chose really great institutions to partner with. All of these things are very wise decisions.”

Another was Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who spoke at the news conference and congratulated Dr. Chan and Mr. Zuckerberg on their ambitious new goal.

"Their vision and generosity has inspired a whole new generation of philanthropists who will do amazing things," he said.

Breaking With Tradition

Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan announced in December the creation of their eponymous effort, a limited-liability company through which they plan to devote 99 percent of their Facebook stock to "improving this world."

Their decision to establish an LLC instead of a traditional private foundation raised eyebrows throughout the philanthropic world. The move will enable them to participate in political advocacy and invest in businesses in addition to giving money to charities and will also shield them from the public reporting requirements to which foundations are subject.

In May, the couple hired Jim Shelton, a former U.S. Department of Education official, to lead the company’s education work. CZI recently invested in Byju’s, a start-up in India that provides personalized learning services to students.

Also in May, the couple took their first step toward funding CZI by selling 767,905 shares of Facebook stock, worth $95 million.