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Chan Zuckerberg Initiative invests $3B to cure all diseases

The charity led by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, throws its weight behind efforts to diagnose, prevent and cure disease.

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The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative said Wednesday it's investing more than $3 billion over the next decade to cure all diseases by the end of the century.

"We all have the opportunity to leave the world a much better place than we found it," said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO and co-head of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The announcement came during an event at the University of California, San Francisco, Mission Bay campus, which houses the school's state-of-the-art hospital complex. In attendance were well-known scientists, investors and politicians, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and former US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

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Priscilla Chan announces that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will invest $3 billion to cure disease.

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Zuckerberg revealed plans to establish the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in December 2015. It will receive 99 percent of his Facebook shares, currently worth about $45 billion. Zuckerberg isn't just one of the world's richest people, he's also the leader of the world's largest social network. Facebook says more than 1.7 billion people, about half the world's online population, use its service at least once a month.

Zuckerberg runs the Initiative with his wife, Priscilla Chan, who is a pediatrician. The group's stated focus is "to advance human potential and promote equality."

In its work toward an end to all diseases, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has three central goals: bring together scientists and engineers, build new tools and tech, and grow the movement to fund science. The Initiative is collaborating with the world's top scientists to battle illnesses like cancer, heart disease, neurological disease and infectious diseases.

"We are investing in basic science research with the goal of curing disease," said Chan. "As a doctor, this is something I've been thinking about for a while."

Fighting back tears, Chan spoke about hard discussions she's had with parents as a pediatrician, "from making a devastating diagnosis of leukemia to telling parents we cannot resuscitate their child." She emphasized that people will still get sick in the future, but doctors will be better at preventing, treating and curing individual diseases.

The Initiative's first investment for this endeavor will be $600 million to fund the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, an independent research center at Mission Bay that will serve as a place where engineers, computer scientists, biologists, chemists and other innovators can collaborate on projects. The Biohub will be led by professors Joseph DeRisi and Stephen Quake and will partner with Stanford University, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of California, Berkeley. Heading all of the Initiative's work in science will be neuroscientist Dr. Cori Bargmann.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says the goal to cure all disease is bold and ambitious.

James Martin/CNET

Another of the Initiative's partners is Gates, who is known for his philanthropic work in the developing world to eradicate and treat diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and polio. He said the goal to cure all disease is "very bold and very ambitious," but that "we desperately need this science."

Sean Parker, Napster co-founder and former Facebook president, is another tech entrepreneur who has invested in curing disease. In April, his foundation donated $250 million to create the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which will oversee 300 researchers working in more than 40 laboratories across the US. The goal of the Parker Institute is to turn cancer into a curable disease by developing immunotherapy treatments that help the body fight cancer with its own immune system.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative made its first major investment in June, leading a $24 million funding round for the New York-based startup Andela, which trains prospective developers in Nigeria and Kenya.

Zuckerberg donated money to other causes before launching the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, including in 2010 when he joined Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in promising to give away at least half his wealth. Chan and Zuckerberg have also put their money behind The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with more than $44.3 billion in assets counted last year.

Looking out at the event's crowd Wednesday, Zuckerberg and Chan thanked all who were there. "My heart is full of hope and we are all eager to get started," Chan said.