Google's Brin, Facebook's Zuckerberg Help Fund $3 Million Science Awards

The life sciences awards, which will recognize research aimed at curing intractable human diseases, are being sponsored by some technology kingpins.

Leaders from Google, Facebook and Group have come together to fund five $3 million prizes annually for innovations in life sciences research around the world to fight stubborn human diseases.

The new awards program, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, is being organized by the nonprofit foundation of the same name, according to a Feb. 20 announcement. The founding organizers of the new group include Google Co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife, Anne Wojcicki; Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; and Yuri Milner, founder of Group. Apple Board Chairman Art Levinson has been named as the chairman of the board for the foundation.

Eleven life science prizes of $3 million each are being awarded in the first round of annual awards in the program's inaugural year of 2013, while in future years five annual $3 million prizes will be handed out annually. The foundation itself is "dedicated to advancing breakthrough research, celebrating scientists and generating excitement about the pursuit of science as a career," according to the group.

"I am delighted to announce the launch of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and welcome its first recipients," Levinson said in a statement. "I believe this new prize will shine a light on the extraordinary achievements of the outstanding minds in the field of life sciences, enhance medical innovation and ultimately become a platform for recognizing future discoveries."

Milner, of the Group, had previously created a similar Fundamental Physics Prize program in 2012 to award $3 million annual prizes for scientific breakthroughs, according to his Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation.

Following are the winners of the first 11 $3 million prizes from the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation:

Cornelia I. Bargmann, the Torsten N. Wiesel Professor and head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at Rockefeller University, for work involving 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 his work in linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using DNA polymorphisms.

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

Hans Clevers, a professor of molecular genetics at Hubrecht Institute, for his work in describing the role of Wnt signaling in tissue stem cells and cancer.

Titia de Lange, the Leon Hess Professor, head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics, and director of the Anderson Center for Cancer Research at Rockefeller University, for research on telomeres and showing 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, a professor of biology at MIT and professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School, for discovering 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 of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 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, for cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes.

Robert A. Weinberg, the Daniel K. Ludwig professor for cancer research at MIT and director of the MIT/Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology, for characterization of human cancer genes.

Shinya Yamanaka, director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University, for induced pluripotent stem cells.

In a statement, Zuckerberg said he and his wife are "honored to be part of this" program. "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."

The amount of money given with these awards exceed that of other famous prizes. For example, the annual Nobel Prizes, given for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace, have prizes today of about $1.55 million each. The Nobel Prizes are international awards administered by the Nobel Foundation.