Paying for Scientific Collaboration and Risk-taking

  • Prosperity
  • 2016

In 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced that they will gradually give away 99 percent of their Facebook stock to “improve the world.” Their first moves were to set up an organization to invest in the improvement and reform of schools. Then in the fall of 2016 they drove down some stakes on a second priority: basic science research. They announced they would invest $3 billion over the next 10 years, with a particular emphasis on preventing, curing, or managing diseases.

An early $600 million was allocated to creating a “biohub” that will induce scientists from three local universities—Stanford, U. Cal Berkeley, and UCSF—to collaborate more in their separate, comparatively massive, biomedical research. Almost immediately, grants were made available to science faculty from the three universities for investigations likely to be considered too risky for government funding.

This same year, another computer pioneer, Paul Allen, pledged $100 million to create a new organization called the Frontiers Group that will similarly support bioscience deemed too new or too untested to attract grant money from government agencies like the National Institutes of Health. It will be managed as a third entity under the Allen Institute umbrella that earlier launched powerful research efforts in cell science (see nearby 2014 entry) and brain science (see 2003 entry on list of achievements in Medicine).