Philanthropists bet on science

In the last ten days my attention has been caught by 2 couples: Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan and Bill and Melinda Gates.

A fresher news concerning Zuckerberg came out only yesterday. Facebook CEO described ambitious plans for the company’s role in humanity’s collective global future in an essay published on Facebook, but in this article I’m more interested in stressing out how some of the most influential people of our time spend and invest their money. So let’s go back to Zuckerberg and Gates families.

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Among Zuckerberg and Chan initiatives, there is a Biohub, that was launched in September 2016 with a program that plans to invest 3 billions dollars over the next decade. Parters of the initiative are the University of Berkeley, the Stanford University and The University of California San Francisco (but network of collaborations is going to be expanded). Two big challenges have being tackled:

1- The Infectious Disease Initiative. As we are more and more reading on the news, drug-resistant strains of bacteria and dangerous diseases such as tuberculosis are steadily eroding existing treatments. Furthermore, more recently, outbreaks of Ebola, Zika and yellow fever have caught the world by surprise. The aim of scientists and engineers is to build up diagnostic tests, new drugs, vaccines and rapid response.
2- The Cell Atlas. This is an interesting project because “hidden within the inner machinery of human cells are the root causes of many diseases. The Cell Atlas will begin to unlock these mysteries, showing how cells work in healthy people and more importantly, what takes place when disease strikes”. For the project will be fundamental the use of the gene editing technique CRISPR, to turn on and off genes and tag proteins in order to follow their behavior in the cell.
But this is not all (and I finally come to recent news), these projects are now put beside The CZ Biohub Investigator Program. This funding has being granted to investigators (more than 700 application were submitted) that are planning to pursue their riskiest and most exciting ideas to build new tools and cutting edge technology to fight rising and unanswered health challenges “to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and help the CZ Biohub realize its vision of curing, preventing or managing every disease in our children’s lifetime”. Forty-seven investigators are about to receive up to US$1.5 million each in the next five years (for more than 50 millions dollars) and you can read who they are what they research here.

Swapping couple, Bill and Melinda Gates have started their foundation back in 2000. As of May 2013, Gates had donated $28 billion dollars to the foundation but also another big philanthropist is giving a massive financial support to it: his name is Warren Buffet, a business man and the second wealthiest person in the world. I’m mentioning him because this week Melinda and Bill released their 2017 Annual letter addressing everybody but in particular Warren Buffet who, in december 2016, asked them to point out “the state of art” of the foundation looking back and forward, to clarify things and make people know. This week Melinda and Bill have replied to Warren Buffet (and have written to us) focusing in particular on what they are doing in global health (the starting point of their philanthropy). In the letter they talk about the job they are doing to reduce children mortality rate in poor countries. Many actions are taking place. Bill Gates Foundation partners “with business and government to set up Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, with the goal of getting vaccines to every child in the world. Gavi connects companies who develop vaccines with wealthy governments that help with funding and developing countries that get the vaccines to their people. Since 2000, Gavi has helped immunize 580 million children around the world. The United States is a major donor to Gavi—with bipartisan support—along with the UK, Norway, Germany, France, and Canada”. They are also founding research to understand which are the causes of newborn mortality and nutrition researches to stop malnutrition that cause defects in the development. They are part of a global partnership called Family Planning 2020 that aim of providing 120 million more women access to contraceptives by 2020. “We’re focusing on South Asia, where contraceptives are used by only a third of the women, and on Africa—where they’re used by fewer than one in five.” They are tackling lots of important challenges and I strongly suggest to read their letter ( can be found here). They are inspiring and they have a magic number: 0. Zero malaria. Zero tubercolosis. Zero HIV. Zero malnutrition. Zero preventable deaths. Zero difference between the health of a poor kid and every other kid. They write “Moving toward zero is perhaps the biggest difference between our philanthropy and a business. In the private sector, the goal is to stay in business. In our case, nothing would make us happier than going out of business because we’ve achieved our goals.”

This is philanthropy and it bets on science.

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