Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have pledged $3 billion to fund medical research over the next decade.
At a press conference in San Francisco, the Facebook founder and his wife said their ultimate goal was to “cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century”.
The funds will be distributed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which they created in December 2015.
Tech leaders are increasingly turning their attention to health.
Earlier in the week, Microsoft said it intended to “solve” cancer by using artificial intelligence (AI) tools.
Google’s DeepMind unit is working with UK’s NHS (National Health Service) to find a way to use computers to more accurately diagnose diseases.
IBM and MIT announced a tie-up earlier this week to develop AI-based systems that could help clinicians improve the care of elderly and disabled patients.
Even so, the Chan Zuckerberg plan is marked by its ambition.
Mark Zuckerberg said that at present 50 times more money was spent on treating people who are sick than on curing the diseases that would stop them getting ill in the first place, and added that this needed to change.
The Facebook founder outlined three principles that will guide the couple’s investments:
to bring scientists and engineers together
to build tools and technology that advance research
to grow the movement to fund more science around the world
Priscilla Chan added that they had already committed $600 million to creating a new research centre called the Biohub, which will bring together engineers, computer scientists, biologists, chemists and other innovators.
The Biohub will initially work on two projects.
The first is the Cell Atlas, a “map” that describes the different types of cells that control the body’s major organs.
The second is the Infectious Disease Initiative, which will try to develop new tests and vaccines to tackle HIV, Ebola, Zika and other new diseases.
Mark Zuckerberg predicted that by 2100 the average life expectancy would be beyond 100 years.
However, he cautioned that it would take years before the couple’s fund led to the creation of new medical treatments and further time before they could be applied to patients.
Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates – who has funded his own health research via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – appeared at the event to praise the announcement.
He described it as “very bold and ambitious” but added that “we desperately need this science”.
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announced in December 2015 that they planned to give away 99% of their shares in Facebook to fund good causes following the birth of their daughter.
The organization’s stated mission is to make long-term investments in work that advances human potential and promotes equality.
They had previously announced investments in education-related start-ups.
One expert said that dealing with all disease was “clearly ambitious” but added that deep-pocketed philanthropists were defined by the fact they could take such risks.
Mark Zuckerberg has defended the unusual company structure chosen for the eye-catching philanthropic venture launched to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Max.
He will give away 99% of his stake in Facebook, worth $45 billion, to fund the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Rather than set up a simple charity, the Facebook founder formed a limited liability company (LLC) to administer the money.
An LLC brings certain tax exemptions but also allows investment for profit.
Critics have said the structure of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative could provide a way for Mark Zuckerberg to avoid paying tax on the sale of his shares. They have also questioned why he did not set up a not-for-profit charity instead.
An LLC allows Mark Zuckerberg to keep hold of the voting and allocation of the shares he puts into it.
In a Facebook post on December 3, Mark Zuckerberg explained his reasons for creating an LLC instead of a not-for-profit organization and said he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will pay capital gains taxes when their shares are sold by the company.
“By using an LLC instead of a traditional foundation, we receive no tax benefit from transferring our shares to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, but we gain flexibility to execute our mission more effectively,” he said.
“In fact, if we transferred our shares to a traditional foundation, then we would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC we do not.
“And just like everyone else, we will pay capital gains taxes when our shares are sold by the LLC,” Mark Zuckerberg added.
The new charitable organization is aimed at “advancing human potential and promoting equality for all children in the next generation”.
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s shares will be donated over the course of their lives. They have already committed $1.6 billion to philanthropic causes according to a Facebook statement.
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have announced they will give away 99% of their Facebook shares to good causes as they welcomed the birth of their daughter Max.
The new father made the announcement in a letter to daughter Max on his Facebook page.
Mark Zuckerberg said they are donating their fortune to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative because they want to make the world a better place for Max to grow up in.
The donation amounts to $45 billion at Facebook’s current value.
However, the shares will not be donated to charity immediately, but over the course of the couple’s lives.
Max Zuckerberg was born last week, although her birth was only made public on December 1.
In his letter, the Facebook founder said the aim of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is “to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation”.
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.
“Your mother and I don’t yet have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future,” Mark Zuckerberg said at the start of his letter to Max.
“You’ve already given us a reason to reflect on the world we hope you live in,” it added.
The letter highlighted the important role of technology in achieving the couple’s goals of advancing human potential and equality.
“Many of the greatest opportunities for your generation will come from giving everyone access to the internet,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote to his daughter.
The Facebook CEO said more details about the donation will be released once he and Priscilla Chan return from paternity and maternity leave.
Mark Zuckerberg, who Forbes estimate is worth some $46.8 billion, said he will remain chief executive of Facebook for “many, many years to come”.
In a filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook said that Mark Zuckerberg “plans to sell or gift no more than $1 billion of Facebook stock each year for the next three years and that he intends to retain his majority voting position…for the foreseeable future”.