Famed founders of internet rivals Google and Facebook joined forces to back big-money prizes for research aimed at extending human life.
Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg, along with their spouses, on Wednesday joined Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner to award 11 scientists $3m each to launch the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
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“Priscilla and I are honoured to be part of this,” Zuckerberg said.
“We believe the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences has the potential to provide a platform for other models of philanthropy, so people everywhere have an opportunity at a better future.”
Art Levinson, who chairs boards at mobile device powerhouse Apple and biotechnology star Genentech, will head the non-profit foundation created to support breakthrough research.
Levinson said he believed the prize would spotlight outstanding minds in medicine and hoped it would help enhance medical innovation.
Zuckerberg, Milner, and Brin’s wife Anne Wojcicki will be on the foundation’s board of directors.
They have agreed that going forward, five annual Breakthrough prizes of $3m each will be awarded.
“We are thrilled to support scientists who think big, take risks and have made a significant impact on our lives,” said Wojcicki, co-founder of startup 23andMe, which provides personal DNA testing services.
“These scientists should be household names and heroes in society.”
Brin remarked that “curing a disease should be worth more than a touchdown” in an apparent reference to riches heaped on professional athletes such as those who play US football.
This year’s Breakthrough Prize winners, many of whom targeted cancer in their research, agreed to serve on a committee to select honorees.
“Solving the enormous complexity of human diseases calls for a much bigger effort compared to fundamental physics and therefore requires multiple sponsors to reward outstanding achievements,” Milner said of the Silicon Valley heavyweights teaming up to back the award.