The Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub: Modern Philanthrocapitalism Through a Critical Lens

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Nishila Mehta
Elnaz Assadpour



Philanthrocapitalism—the application of capitalist concepts and objectives to philanthropy—is increasingly directing the course of many efforts in global health research and development. Instead of donating money to charities, philanthrocapitalists prefer a more hands-on approach that imitates for-profit business practices. The practice recognizes that capitalism can be utilized for the benefit of mankind by propelling profit-driven innovation. One such enterprise is the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, (CZI) recently formed by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. The first leg of this initiative is the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub, a research center that aims to pursue the initiative’s goal of “curing, preventing or managing all diseases by the end of this century” (Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, 2017). This paper critically examines the popular discourse surrounding the benefits of philanthrocapitalism in relation s to the potential efficacy of the Biohub. Drawing from examples of past initiatives with similar goals, this paper raises questions of accountability, political repercussions, tax benefits and private interests. A critical analysis of the Biohub provides some insights into how this initiative may be laying the foundation for future patentable drugs and technologies, but also may be protecting large sums of money from state taxation, steering research priorities with little public oversight and undermining government support for research. It also raises questions around the capacity of this initiative to substantially alleviate the global burden of disease. This discussion ventures to raise awareness about the methods and practices of philanthrocapitalist initiatives using the Biohub as an example and provide recommendations for change.

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Mehta, N., & Assadpour, E. (2017). The Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub: Modern Philanthrocapitalism Through a Critical Lens. The Columbia University Journal of Global Health, 7(2), 36–44.