High tech billionaires create new science award

February 20, 2013 8:25:37 PM PST
Some very well-known high tech billionaires are creating the richest prize in medicine. On Wednesday they handed out $3 million apiece to 11 winners of the New Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize. It happened Wednesday morning at UCSF's Mission Bay campus.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google founder Sergei Brin, Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner... these are some of the big names behind the Life Science Breakthrough Prize. They say they're giving the money away to change lives.

At the morning announcement Zuckerberg said the prize is about celebrating are rewarding scientists who are making a difference.

"All of the real work that you guys are doing to cure diseases, to expand our understanding of humanity, and to improve people's lives in all of these ways," said Zuckerberg.

Both Zuckerberg and biologist Anne Wojcicki -- the founder of 23AndMe -- and Brin's wife said she hopes the prize will inspire future generations.

"There are going to be amazing discoveries that all of you and people out there in the world are going to be discovering in the next 50 years and what I hope this prize does is inspires people that this this is really important and that you should be heroes in society," said Wojcicki.

One of the 11 recipients discovered a family of enzymes related to the growth of cancer cells. Lewis Cantley describes how the chairman of Apple called him to tell him he had won.

"And I though he was going to say like $100,000 and when he said $3 million, I was glad I was sitting down because I might've fallen over," said Cantley.

Wednesday was also Cantley's birthday, so it's been quite a day for him.

The chairman of Apple, Art Levinson, says the high tech billionaires understand the importance of biotech research.

"These drugs don't come out of thin air they come on the back of the foundational basic research being done by the scientists largely in academia," said Levinson.

The plan is that this prize will be handed out every year. In the future, there will be only five recipients of the award selected each year.


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