Three of the Bay Area's powerhouse universities have joined forces to work on a new biomedical science research center funded by a $600 million grant from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, the universities announced Wednesday.
The University of California, San Francisco, Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, will collaborate on projects through the San Francisco-based Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, which is meant to push forward ambitious research projects that would potentially solve some of the world's biggest disease conundrums.
The Biohub is the first philanthropic science investment made by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which is dedicated to advancing human potential and promoting equality. The bioscience collaborative, which will be headquartered next to UCSF's Mission Bay campus with a satellite site at Stanford, is designed to provide basic researchers and clinical scientists with flexible laboratory space, the latest technological tools and funding for ambitious research projects, the universities announced.
Chan and Zuckerberg announced the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in 2015, when they pledged in an open letter to their newborn daughter to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares during their lives for charitable purposes. The initiative's goals is to cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century by accelerating basic science research through supporting new ways to enable scientists and engineers to collaborate and advance progress.
"Partnering with experts is more effective for the mission than trying to lead efforts ourselves," Chan and Zuckerberg wrote.
To further their goals, the Biohub will immediately launch two five-year research projects: the Cell Atlas and the Infectious Disease Initiative.
The Cell Atlas would be a map of the many different cells that control the body's major organs, such as the brain, heart and lungs. It would also depict the internal mechanisms of cells in unprecedented detail, allowing scientists to search for basic breakdowns within cells when disease strikes. The information will be available to researchers around the world, and the Biohub's efforts are anticipated to spur global collaborations to complete the Atlas, according to the universities' statement.
The Infectious Disease Initiative would explore new ways to create drugs, diagnostic tests and vaccines against the many infectious diseases that still threaten much of the world, including HIV, Ebola and Zika. It will include a rapid-response team that can immediately devote scientists and advanced research technology to develop new ways to fight a sudden outbreak.
Researchers heading the collaboration described the Biohub and its new research projects as extraordinary opportunities.
"The Biohub will be the sinew that ties together these three institutions in the Bay Area like never before," Dr. Stephen Quake, a Stanford professor of bioengineering and of applied physics, said in a statement.
Quake, who will co-lead the Biohub, has invented many widely used biological measurement technologies, including microfluidic devices that are the biological equivalent of the integrated circuit. He also created the first non-invasive prenatal test to replace amniocentesis.
Dr. Joseph DeRisi, professor and chair of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, will also co-lead with Quake. DeRisi is known for his use of genomic technologies for the study of malaria and viruses and the diagnosis of unknown infections.
Former Stanford President John Hennessy, who was instrumental in helping establish the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will serve on the board of the Biohub as a scientist and technologist.
"The vision for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's science focus and the Biohub capitalizes on the strengths of our Bay Area universities, and also makes a major investment in early-stage research of the type that cannot be readily funded elsewhere," Hennessy said in the joint universities statement. "It is large-scale collaboration at its best, and with tremendous promise for solving the world’s greatest health challenges."
The Biohub will provide support for both established and early-career scientists, and will support high-impact projects that may be too exploratory to receive government support, according to the announcement. The competition for these slots will be open to faculty at the three universities in October.
DeRisi and Quake expect investigators to be selected by an independent panel of scientists by the end of the year. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will not be involved in reviewing and selecting investigators, according to the announcement.
In addition to the Biohub, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative also announced plans for a broader focus on science, its second major initiative, alongside work to improve education for all students.