Facebook, Google Moguls Give $33M in Prizes to Biomedical Stars

[Updated 11:35 am with Zuckerberg comment] Some of the highest achievers in technology are giving away a lot of money to people who have made some of the biggest achievements in biotech.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, along with Google’s Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki, announced today they have come together with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to establish a prize for biomedical research that’s worth $3 million apiece. The new award, called the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, was given to 11 different biomedical superstars today. A new foundation administering the awards, chaired by former Genentech CEO Art Levinson, will plan to give five of these awards each year.

The tech moguls, who have achieved no shortage of fame for their work, clearly want see some more fortune and fame go to the high achievers in biomedicine. The stated goal of the new foundation is “advancing breakthrough research, celebrating scientists and generating excitement about the pursuit of science as a career,” according to a statement.

“This is the start of something that will hopefully be an inspirational thing for a lot of folks to come,” Zuckerberg said in remarks at a press conference today. The prizes being given today aren’t really so much about the first round of winners, he said, adding:  “It’s about the next generation of folks.”

At $3 million apiece, the prize is worth more than double what recipients get from a Nobel Prize, as Dennis Overbye noted today in the New York Times. Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA, one of the winners, told the Times it’s “a staggering amount of money for a scientist.”

The list of 11 inaugural winners represents a list of superstars within biomedicine, although none of them have achieved the kind of fame that Zuckerberg and Brin have. Here’s who took home the prize.

Cornelia Bargmann of Rockefeller University in New York

David Botstein of Princeton University in Princeton, NJ

Lewis Cantley of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York

Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research in the Netherlands

Napoleone Ferrara of the University of California, San Diego.

Titia de Lange of Rockefeller University in New York

Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA

Charles Sawyers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York

Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD

Robert Weinberg of MIT in Cambridge, MA

Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan and the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco.

Over at Forbes, Matthew Herper has some more detail on the specific achievements of each of the prize-winning scientists, and some discussion with readers about how much impact the tech moguls can make by bestowing awards on scientists who are already famous and well-funded.

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the chancellor of UC San Francisco and the former president of product development at Genentech, served as the host of today’s award ceremony at UCSF Mission Bay.

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