Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan and Bill Gates to fund $25M coronavirus research group

Zuckerbergs to fund coronavirus research

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan are stepping up to battle the coronavirus pandemic through their charitable group, The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. They announced plans to partner with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, "contributing $25 million with Gates and others" to begin exploring possible COVID-19 treatments. 

"I'm really proud to share that CZI's gonna be joining Gates and others to put together something they're calling the 'therapeutics accelerator to fight coronavirus," Chan told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King in an exclusive interview. 

Chan explained that the collective's goal will be "to fund a group to screen all the drugs that we know have potential effects against coronavirus." 

"Part of the idea," Zuckerberg added, is that a single drug can often be used against multiple diseases. "So you can basically take all those drugs that have already been screened as safe and test them to see if they might also have a positive impact for either preventing the coronavirus, or reducing the symptoms and making it less damaging." 

Social media giant Facebook has not been spared from the effects of the pandemic, either. Due to coronavirus precautions, its 45,000 employees are all working from home. According to Zuckerberg, even those who cannot fulfill their jobs from home will still get "paid in full" during the uncertain period. 

The tech billionaire said he hopes the pledge to pay all employees would set an example for other companies. 

"There are a lot of companies that I think can afford to take care of their people, and I think we have a responsibility to do that," he said.

Facebook, for all its wealth, has seen a significant drop in ad revenue recently. Zuckerberg noted that with the site's notable advertising business, it would feel the hit, though it did not warrant anything as "drastic" as re-shaping the business model. 

"We're fortunate enough to be a larger company that has a meaningful cash reserve, and I think we'll be able to weather this and do okay," he said, adding that his priority was to take care of their community and "do the right things." 

Zuckerberg acknowledged the issues Facebook has faced with its public image, mainly questions the company has faced over how "proactive" it was "in handling different situations."

Given that reputation, the tech billionaire said it was "especially important" that they can be proactive in handling the coronavirus. 

"I'm very proud about how our teams around the world have pulled together to support people - getting accurate information, fighting misinformation, supporting small business and their recovery - making sure that important social and communication services that people rely on to keep in touch with the people they love, stay stable and running," he said. 

Facebook's promotion of communication and community engagement has been on full display in recent weeks, with celebrities taking to Facebook's other app, Instagram, to stage realtime, virtual performances for fans while social distancing is preventing large gatherings. DJ D-Nice's Saturday night Instagram Live "party" even included a shoutout for the Facebook founder.

"I appreciate that, that was very nice. It was- I mean, look, it is really inspiring to see," Zuckerberg said about the acknowledgment. "People are finding ways to come together and support each other even when we can't be together in person."

Chan pointed out that Zuckerberg was "the only adult" she was able to speak to in person given the current coronavirus precautions. 

"I would say you're my favorite person. And if I had to be locked up with anyone, it would be you," Zuckerberg told her with a laugh. 

Chan acknowledged the "beautiful" ways people were "reaching out and caring for each other" during a time of crisis, while also noting the sad reality of those who "have lost their lives and are putting so much into this." 

"I feel so heartened by all people that are on the front lines taking care of us. And it's not just the doctors. It's the people in the grocery stores, the mail delivery person to make sure we have what we need," Chan said. 

She expressed gratitude for the "everyday bravery and hard work" of regular people as well as scientists working towards treatments and vaccines, noting that she received emails "constantly" from people who want to contribute to efforts to battle the virus.

"Altogether, that has to mean something," she said.