Joe DeRisi will help oversee dozens of researchers pursuing open-ended ideas.

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Chan Zuckerberg Biohub funds first crop of 47 investigators

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub has selected its first cohort of investigators. The nonprofit research institute in San Francisco, California, part of Facebook Co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan’s plan to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases, announced today that 47 faculty at three nearby research universities will get no-strings-attached awards to delve into risky new directions.

Biohub is the first concrete piece of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s foray into science, launched last September with a commitment of $3 billion over 10 years from Zuckerberg and Chan, a pediatrician. The institute brings together the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF); UC Berkeley; and Stanford University to focus initially on two projects, a cell atlas and infectious diseases. The launch of Biohub’s investigator program means each scientist and engineer chosen will receive an average of up to $300,000 per year for 5 years for life sciences research.

Biohub co-president and UCSF infectious disease specialist Joe DeRisi says the goal is not to supplement what researchers are already doing, but to allow them to explore “blue-sky” areas. Although some awards went to already-well-funded faculty, many winners are young scientists striving to get grants, he says. (Biohub awards are roughly equivalent in size to an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health [NIH].) The initiative is also funding technology developers who struggle to obtain NIH funding because they’re not doing hypothesis-driven research, he says.

The 47 investigators will meet periodically at the Biohub building, in rented space at San Francisco’s Mission Bay district, and can also use its labs for collaborative projects or activities that require a lot of space. “We are very much trying to bring in a highly disciplinary, highly collaborative approach,” DeRisi says.

To promote open science, Biohub will require investigators to share submitted manuscripts online as preprints. Biohub’s leaders are still discussing whether to require all those journal articles to be freely available upon publication, or open access, which means Biohub would cover author publication fees. So far only one major U.S. biomedical research funder, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has imposed such a requirement on its grantees.