Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, and Yuri Milner Launch A $33 Million “Breakthrough Prize” For The Life Sciences Foundation

Posted Feb 20, 2013

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO), Sergey Brin (Google co-founder), and Yuri Milner (Russian investor/entrepreneur) have established an annual prize to reward research for curing diseases.  The “Breakthrough Prize” for the Life Sciences Foundation was announced today.  The first 11 winners of the award were announced and they involve combating cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, etc.  Each of them will receive $3 million.

“With the mapping of the genome sequence there are expectations of significant progress in the next 10 or 20 years so I think the timing is really appropriate to create an incentive for the best scientific minds,” stated Milner in an interview with the Guardian UK.  “Young people will hopefully get the message that not only the careers in sports or entertainment can get a public recognition.”

Milner distributed prizes last year for the field of fundamental physics.  Each of those prizes were worth $3 million and 9 inaugural winners received a total of $27 million.  The three formed a committee to choose the winner or joint winners.

Milner said that he has two very close relatives that have very bad diseases and one of them is cancer.  “This is part of my personal connection with this prize,” added Milner in the interview.  Milner met Zuckerberg when he bought a $200 million stake in Facebook 4 years ago.  Milner also contacted Russian-American entrepreneur Sergey Brin to work with him on the project.  Brin’s wife Anne Wojcicki was named the fourth sponsor.  She runs a genome-mapping company called 23andMe.

Art Levinson, the chairman of Apple, will chair the new foundation.  Recipients of the prizes will come from the United States, Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Cornelia Bargmann was shocked that she won one of the prizes.  “I had to sit down on the floor for a while. I thought it must be a practical joke or a Nigerian scam.”  She added “The scale of this is so outsized I think it will have a huge impact on the life sciences.” 

Below is a list of the winners and what they worked on: 

  • Cornelia I. Bargmann: For the genetics of neural circuits and behavior and synaptic guidepost molecules.
  • David Botstein: For linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using DNA polymorphisms.
  • Lewis C. Cantley: For the discovery of PI 3-Kinase and its role in cancer metabolism.
  • Hans Clevers: For describing the role of Wnt signaling in tissue stem cells and cancer.
  • Napoleone Ferrara: For research on telomeres, illuminating how they protect chromosome ends and their role in genome instability in cancer.
  • Titia de Lange: For discoveries in the mechanisms of angiogenesis that led to therapies for cancer and eye diseases.
  • Eric S. Lander: For the discovery of general principles for identifying human disease genes and enabling their application to medicine through the creation and analysis of genetic, physical and sequence maps of the human genome.
  • Charles L. Sawyers: For cancer genes and targeted therapy.
  • Bert Vogelstein: For cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes.
  • Robert A. Weinberg: For characterization of human cancer genes.
  • Shinya Yamanaka: For induced pluripotent stem cells.

[Source: Guardian UK]
[Image credit: BornRich]