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Billionaire Behind TikTok Commits $10 Million To A Bill Gates-Backed Accelerator For COVID-19 Therapeutics Treatments

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Zhang Yiming, the 36-year-old Chinese billionaire founder of social media app TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, has pledged $10 million to the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a project founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other donors to the Accelerator include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and singer Madonna. 

“While [Zhang] has met Bill Gates a couple of times in passing, he does not know him well but has tremendous respect for Bill and Melinda Gates’ systematic approach and ongoing efforts in contributing to philanthropy,” a spokesperson for Zhang said. “He sees them as an inspiration for all entrepreneurs fortunate enough to be in a position to give back to the community.” 

The Accelerator was launched in March as a $125 million fund, initially backed by the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Mastercard. In early April, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic arm CZI announced a $25 million gift to the fund. The U.K. government and Madonna also became donors; the size of their gifts were undisclosed.

The Accelerator’s mission is to coordinate research, remove barriers to drug development, and scale up treatments to the coronavirus with fast and flexible funding, according to the Accelerator’s website. It is working with the World Health Organization, researchers, governments, the private sector and global regulators to fast track drugs related to COVID-19.

“Philanthropic, government and private sector organizations, as well as individuals like Zhang Yiming demonstrate the wide array of donors who understand the value of collaboration in developing effective drugs  to help turn the tide of this pandemic,” said Trevor Mundel, president of the global health division at the Gates Foundation. “Until we have a vaccine, expanded testing, isolation and treatment are our best options.”

Forbes pegs Zhang’s net worth at $16.2 billion, based on his estimated ownership of about one quarter of ByteDance. Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Beijing, the privately held company last raised financing in 2018 at a massive $75 billion valuation. 

TikTok launched in 2016 and reached international markets the next year. The short video app, which has around 625 million users worldwide, according to App Annie, appeals particularly to the Gen Z demographic. 

This is the first known significant philanthropic donation by Zhang. 

Angel Au-Yeung, Forbes Staff, Billionaires

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