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]

Add New Comment


  • Karla Shepard Rubinger

    Now this will grab public attention! Science MUST be seen as an obvious public good and will help shine that spotlight. The fact that 2 outstanding women in science have made the list is key to opening the doors of science to more than just men - we need all the great minds to address the challenges of science. The Rosalind Franklin Society, with these 2 women, will do that! Thanks!

  • Nevanitsky



    This video clearly outlines a plan to replace teachers with


  • Mariacasadoachaval

    CONGRATULATIONS!!, Sir Mark Zuckerberg , Sergey Bin and Yuri Mine, please check an INstitucion FOundation Leloir IN my country Argentina, founded by federico Leloir, make research in cancer, alzheimer, and other health importants themes to find cure for them, federico leloir was nobel prize , chemestry 1970, their investigators , science people, needs your HELP, TOO! to Help all the World with their health cure cancer melanoma skin treatment.., many thanks, Maria Casado Achával, buenos Aires, Argentina.

  • Chuenjit Dolnvas

    How you think about "Human life 's Medicine"so big motive of this source to be a Buddy system and run find yourself.

  • Trishlikky

    Thumbs up to the three tech - coons............... You guys rock. As for the winner Cunt - elia I. Banger -of-men (ann). What the F is wrong with you to make such nasty reference to Nigeria? A greedy person falls for the whims of any scammer, so get your acts wright and don't start what you cant finish

  • Kjpottruff

    To Mark Zuckerberg and company, thank you for your generous contribution to medical research.

  • Francisco_carmona

    Really it's awesome as you can change the world with this ideas, congratulations Mark!

  • Helen Milne

    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Zuckerberg and Mr. Milner.......this suggestion will be viewed as really "out of the box" but judging by your personal achievements, I'm thinking that "the box" does not apply to you individually or as a group. Gabrielle Giet, a psychic clairvoyant (yes, please keep reading) has been screaming to the world for three years now that she been given the information for treatments that will cure cancer, parkinson's and other disease currently deemed to be incurable, for less than $3 per session. While she understands the bias based on the prolific amount of frauds in this field, the frustration of watching people suffer unnecessarily is beyond description. Ms. Giet is simply asking for a meeting with the relevant researchers in these fields, in order to pass on the information. How can a 15 minute conversation hurt when so much is at stake? Currently Ms. Giet has developed a bio-medical device that will allow for self regeneration of the cornea, eliminating the need for cornea transplant or providing a therapeutic alternative to those who are not candidates for transplant. Once in use this device will restore vision to 90% of patients who are blind from corneal or ocular surface diseases. Gabrielle is scheduled to do an initial presentation of this device to doctors at UCSF in March, 2013.

  • Ignacio Escobar

    Congratulations! It is a very great idea. The human being need more science than religion.

  • Ignacio Escobar

    Thanks a lot for this kind of ideas. The world need many people like you.

  • Reghuram Seenivasan

    Great work Mark, I'm a big fan of yours, it would will be still greater if you could promote ethical research where animal testing is prevented as some pharmaceuticals go through some amount of testing in animals before it is approved by the FDA. Please continue to give the prizes to the right persons as you might have given this time. You guys are really great.

  • Fdjaksl

    "Young people will hopefully get the message that not only the careers in sports or entertainment can get a public recognition" ... Sure! When you are over 60. Young people understood :|

  • Eva Hetzroni

    You may like to look into the amazing work Dr, Yishai Efrati and his wonderful team at the Hyerbaric Oxygen dept., at Assaf Harofah Hospital in Israel are doing. They are now begining to show the effects, not only on wounds and burns but on neuroplasty in stroke and brain injury patients. My daughter started his treatment 3 weeks ago after going into cardiac arrest 5 days after giving birth to her twins. She suffered sever Anoxic Brain damage. No coutry will exept this treatment  but Dr. Efrati is now showing amazing results and making a huge difference in the lives of stroke and brain damaged patients. This is a great breakthrough which will give miliions of people there lives back, At the present time there is no treatment only  rehabilitaion. This is a treatment. Please investigate and thank you for all the good work you are doing.

  • Shahedulshuvo

     Thanks Mark for spending your money on such a good way,
    Once again thanks.

  • ACoote

    Why doesn't this article talk about the involvement of people like Art Levinson as well? He did more real innovation in his time in biotech than any social media company ever will (and in fact, Napoleone Ferrara did his work while at Genentech) 

  • well wisher really work hard to make this world beautiful.
    You are really a great legend......