Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 20, 2013

Google Cofounder: Curing a Disease Should Be Worth More than a Touchdown

Three tech moguls have teamed up to create one of the world’s most lucrative health science prizes.

Yuri Milner, a prominent Russian tech investor, has joined with Google cofounder Sergey Brin, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, to create the Breakthrough Prize, which awards $3 million to innovators in health science research.

“Curing a disease should be worth more than a touchdown,” Brin stated.

The first 11 winners and the details of the prize were presented at a news conference in San Francisco. Milner and Dr. Arthur D. Levinson, Apple chairman and former CEO of biotech company Genetech, selected the first group of winners.

The Breakthrough Prize comes from the Life Sciences Foundation, which benefited from considerable though undisclosed contributions from Milner, Zuckerberg and Brin. The foundation anticipates giving out at least five prizes each year and allowing past recipients to choose present winners.

Zuckerberg envisions the foundation as an “open platform” for an increasing number of prizes. He suggests that interested philanthropers could create individual prizes related to specific diseases.

In Milner’s view, scientists are “wonderful people who are mostly invisible.” According to Milner, “There is a significant deficit in our social system, globally, that scientists are underappreciated as people who are making significant contributions to our everyday survival.”

Two of the investors have close ties to the medical world. Brin’s wife, Anne Wojcicki, is the cofounder of 23andMe Inc., a DNA science company. Zuckerberg’s wife Priscilla Chan has also studied medicine.

Milner has also given out a self-funded $3-million prize in fundamental physics. “Everybody agreed that motivating young scientists to stay in science, and not necessarily switch to areas that are better monetized, is one of the top priorities,” Milner explained.

Anyone can nominate an innovator in the health sciences using the foundation’s Web form. Past winners (who presumably aren’t among the current judges) can also receive the prize again.

As Mr. Milner said, “If you’re Einstein, you will be getting three.”

Edited by Braden Becker

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