Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Yuri Milner Create $33 Million Breakthrough Prize For Medical Research

There will be 11 annual prizes, each with a purse of $3 million, funded by the founders of Facebook and Google, along with venture capitalist Yuri Milner.

Three of Silicon Valley's most high-profile entrepreneurs are launching a new Foundation with designs on the Nobel Prizes. The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation is to reward life-saving research with 11 annual awards, each with an individual reward of $3 million. Google's Sergey Brin and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg have teamed up with technology investor Yuri Milner, whose eponymous awards were set up last year to award breakthroughs in fundamental physics, to reward medical breakthroughs. "Young people will hopefully get the message that not only the careers in sports or entertainment can get a public recognition," Milner said.

[Read more about the Most Innovative Companies in health care.]

All three tycoons (tech-coons?) have personal links to life sciences—Brin is married to Anne Wojcicki, founder of genomics firm 23andMe, and who is also a co-sponsor of the awards, while Zuckerberg tied the knot with med-school graduate Priscilla Chan last year, who is aiming for a career in pediatrics. The Zuckerbergs are already known for their philanthropy , coming in just behind legendary investor Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire-Hathaway investment firm snapped up Heinz last week. Milner, founder of Digital Sky Technologies, and who shelled out $200 million on Facebook four years ago, is doing it for personal reasons. "I have two very close relatives with very bad diseases, one of them is cancer," he told The Guardian. This is part of my personal connection with this prize." The chair of the new foundation will be Art Levinson, the chairman of Apple.

The winners of the $33 million, from the U.S., Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands, were officially announced today. Cornelia I. Bargmann, a winner and neural circuits pioneer at the Rockefeller University, said she thought she had fallen victim to either a practical joke or a Nigerian scam. "The scale of this is so outsized I think it will have a huge impact on the life sciences," Bargmann said.

Here's the full list, from Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences:

Cornelia I. Bargmann
Torsten N. Wiesel Professor and Head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at the Rockefeller University. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
For the genetics of neural circuits and behavior, and synaptic guidepost molecules

David Botstein
Director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and the Anthony B. Evnin Professor of Genomics at Princeton University.
For linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using DNA polymorphisms.

Lewis C. Cantley
Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor and Director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
For the discovery of PI 3-Kinase and its role in cancer metabolism.

Hans Clevers
Professor of Molecular Genetics at Hubrecht Institute.
For describing the role of Wnt signaling in tissue stem cells and cancer.

Titia de Lange
Leon Hess Professor, Head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics, and Director of the Anderson Center for Cancer Research at the Rockefeller University.
For research on telomeres, illuminating how they protect chromosome ends and their role in genome instability in cancer.

Napoleone Ferrara
Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Senior Deputy Director for Basic Sciences at Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego.
For discoveries in the mechanisms of angiogenesis that led to therapies for cancer and eye diseases.

Eric S. Lander
President and Founding Director of the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Professor of Biology at MIT. Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School.
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
Chair, Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
For cancer genes and targeted therapy.

Bert Vogelstein
Director of the Ludwig Center and Clayton Professor of Oncology and Pathology at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
For cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes.

Robert A. Weinberg
Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research at MIT and Director of the MIT/Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology. Member, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
For characterization of human cancer genes.

Shinya Yamanaka
Director of Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University. Senior Investigator, Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco.
For induced pluripotent stem cells.

[Image by Flickr user Upupa4me]

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