Blog March 2, 2017

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Makes First Bio Research Awards

Last fall, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced plans to invest $3 billion over 10 years in scientific efforts with an ambitious long-range aim to “cure, prevent or manage” all diseases. As a first part of that effort, they directed $600 million towards the establishment of the CZ Biohub in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood.
This month, the Biohub made its first awards totaling over $50 million to fund 47 investigators chosen from over 700 applicants from the University of California Berkeley, Stanford University, and the University of California San Francisco. Each of those chosen will receive up to $1.5 million in funding over 5 years. The recipients include both 25 already well-funded senior investigators and 22 junior investigators still striving to obtain NIH funding; 26 men and 21 women. The researchers’ areas of expertise vary widely: biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, math and physics. Moreover, those selected included both basic science researchers and technology developers — who often struggle to obtain NIH funding.
A central theme in the selection process was “risk-taking” — the funding is aimed at scientists who are trying to take on non-traditional research that may be beyond their public institution’s normal threshold of risk as well as above the risk threshold of most NIH funding. Rather than trying to achieve certain stated goals, the aim of these awards is to accelerate non-traditional means of research that achieve basic scientific breakthroughs and insights that could lead to more significant innovations and health care advances down the road.
While the specific research programs receiving funding vary greatly, collaboration and transparency are important goals for the effort. The funded investigators must make their draft publications widely available through pre-print servers, as soon as they are submitted for peer-reviewed journal publication. The 47 investigators will meet several times a year at the Biohub and can use its laboratories for collaborative projects or activities that require a lot of space. The Biohub also plans to build up shared technology platforms and make them available to Bay Area scientists to further their research.
Researchers funded under the program are permitted to file for patents, which would be jointly owned by the Biohub and the scientists’ home institutions. The Biohub will have an active licensing program and expects to partner actively with industry to see the discoveries that emerge from their investment translated into technologies, products and other innovations that benefit human health.
We view the Biohub as an interesting source of future innovation for the industry, which is expected to span multiple therapeutic areas and technologies.