By Bob Marshall, Chief Editor, Med Device Online
A recent BioBreakfast event welcomed Marc Malandro, VP of operations for science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), back to the city of Pittsburgh. Malandro previously served as Vice Chancellor for Technology Management and Commercialization, as well as Founding Director of the Innovation Institute, at the University of Pittsburgh. Under his leadership, the university filed over 1,100 new U.S. patent applications, was granted 609 U.S. issued patents, entered into over 1,203 license agreements, and formed 86 companies based on university research. Malandro’s productive tenure at Pitt began in 2004 and lasted until his departure for CZI earlier this year.
In his new role, Malandro is part of the CZI team supporting novel advances in the scientific research behind modern medicine. To accelerate this progress, CZI will bring scientists and engineers together in new ways, create computational and experimental tools to empower the scientific community, and build a movement to support basic scientific research. But, where did CZI come from?
CZI is inseparably linked to the modest beginnings of social media monster Facebook. In January of 2004, then Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg began writing code for a new web site in his dorm room. On Feb. 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched "Thefacebook," originally located at thefacebook.com. This became the Facebook so many people know and love; it currently is valued at about $500 billion, and Zuckerberg owns about 20 percent of the shares outstanding.
Two Cute Reasons To Focus Fortune On Cures: Maxima and August
So what made this captain of social media industry shift his focus from building a commercial empire to making the world a better place? Some might say he got hit with a rock, or more correctly a stone – Elizabeth Stone, to be precise. The American author is known for her quotation, “Making the decision to have a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan were struck by two cute little pebbles named Maxima and August, who seem to have pivoted their focus from fortune to future.
In a letter to our daughter, Zuckerberg provides a hopeful, touching, and motivational vision of how the world could be better and he makes several pledges to help the effort. After the birth of their first daughter, Maxima, the Zuckerbergs pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares over their lifetimes to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to focus on health and education.
It’s So Refreshing To Hear Someone In Business Talk About “Long-term Thinking”
The most exciting and enlightening part of listening to Marc Malandro talk about CZI was hearing the differentiated approach from much of the business community today. Zuckerberg and Chan are focused on making long-term investments in causes and organizations to improve health, education, and equality. Malandro explained that a long-term focus means they establish 25-, 50-, and 100-year goals. Those of us in business can probably relate to how different this might be.
In the commercial world of publically owned corporations, there is considerable pressure for near-term results, and many organizations drive toward 1-,3-, and 5-year goals. Malandro also talked about the necessity and expectation regarding risk. CZI expects 50 percent of its projects to fail; if less than half of the projects fail, the organization is not taking enough risk to change the world.
CZI explains its initiatives in health thusly:
(Achieving our goals) doesn’t mean that no one will ever get sick. But it does mean our children and their children will get sick a lot less. When they do, doctors will be able to detect and treat their conditions, or at least manage them with limited consequences. We believe this is possible by the end of the century — and many of the world’s best scientists do too. Today, researchers are dramatically expanding our understanding of the human body and illness — the science behind medicine. To accelerate this progress, we will bring scientists and engineers together in new ways, create computational and experimental tools to empower the scientific community and build a movement to support basic science research.
Chan, Zuckerberg, and members of the CZI staff explain their goals in more detail in this CZI video.
Might The End Justify The Means?
There is an interesting “twist” to this feel-good story. Back in 2004, just six days after the Facebook site launched, three Harvard seniors — Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra — alleged that CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke an oral contract with them to build the then-named "HarvardConnection" social network in 2004, instead opting to steal the idea and code to launch Facebook months before HarvardConnection began. The original lawsuit was eventually settled in 2009, with Facebook paying approximately $20 million in cash and providing 1.25 million shares that were worth $300 million at Facebook's IPO.
Regardless of what really happened and what you might think, one cannot argue against Zuckerberg’s responsibility for deftly building Facebook into the king of social media. His leadership and the team he assembled performed beyond expectation. Now, with the creation of CZI, a new team with new initiatives will engage larger, longer-term, and more important goals.
It only makes sense for CZI to seek out the best and the brightest to accomplish those goals, and they have accomplished that with the addition of Marc Malandro to the team. His expertise is at the intersection of science, business, and law — including technology transfer, commercialization of technologies based on academic research, intellectual property, industry–academia relations, innovation and entrepreneurship, licensing, new company formation, and partnership–alliance management. His time in Pittsburgh was revolutionary for the university and the region. Here’s hoping he can help CZI achieve their goals on a global scale!