Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, along with their spouses, are among a group that's awarding $3 million each to 11 life-science researchers seeking to cure intractable diseases and extend human life, including several working at some of America's leading research hospitals.
Zuckerberg, along with his wife, Priscilla Chan; Brin and his wife, Anne Wojcicki; plus venture capitalist Yuri Milner have formed the not-for-profit Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation
to recognize scientists and celebrate their achievements. The first year of the program will award $3 million prizes each to 11 individuals. The group will award five $3 million awards in subsequent years. Art Levinson, the chairman of the board for Apple, will serve as the foundation's board chairman. Each winner will be invited to make public speeches to a general audience to explain their research.
The first winners of the prize include Lewis Cantley, director of the cancer center at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital; Napoleone Ferrara, senior director for basic sciences at Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego; Charles Sawyers, chairman of the human oncology and pathogenesis program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; and Bert Vogelstein, professor of oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. The majority of the winners live in the U.S., but the winners also hail from Italy, Japan and the Netherlands. They've been recognized for research on cancer, genetics and stem cells and other areas.
Zuckerberg, at a Wednesday news conference, said society needs more heroes from the fields of research, science and engineering than the world of sports. He said the award would be a way to inspire students to enter the research sector. “We really want to see this as a platform that can potentially attract further interest from other sponsors,” he said.
Future awards will have five unique categories pertaining to a certain disease or research focus. The award money represents a modest amount for researchers, in comparison to a governmental grant and could be a good starting point for researchers, Levinson said.
Winners will have to make at least one speech to the general public each year and the address would be available on the foundation’s website, Brin said.