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Mail.ru tycoon, Silicon Valley titans announce $3m life science prizes

Yuri Milner teams up with Zuck, Brin and Levinson

Russian internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner has persuaded Mark Zuckerberg, Art Levinson and Sergey Brin to pool their money for a science prize of $3m to for research into curing diseases and extending human life.

The Silicon Valley titans from Facebook, Apple and Google have joined forces with the Mail.ru tycoon and US biologist Anne Wojcicki, as well as Zuck's wife Priscilla Chan, to hand out the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

For the inaugural awards, 11 boffins have nabbed $3m each from the not-for-profit foundation behind the prizes for achievements including work in cancer genomics and tumour suppressor genes and the discovery of general principles for identifying human disease genes.

"Curing a disease should be worth more than a touchdown," Sergey Brin said in a canned statement.

Milner stunned the science world back in August last year when he randomly handed out nine theoretical physics prizes of $3m each, surprising the recipients with the cash wad. He also honoured Stephen Hawking in December with a special Fundamental Physics Prize for his lifetime of achievements of another $3m. The first nine physicists are all on a committee to choose this year's physics winners.

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation follows the same format, with today's 11 winners going on a committee to choose the next five winners. The prize will continue annually, with each year's winners joining the committee for future awards.

There won't be any age restrictions on potential prize winners, any number of scientists can share a prize and anyone can be nominated for consideration online.

"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. ®

The full list of winners:

Cornelia I. Bargmann, Torsten N. Wiesel Professor and Head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at the Rockefeller University. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

For 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 linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using DNA polymorphisms.

Lewis C. Cantley, Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor and Director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

For the discovery of PI 3-Kinase and its role in cancer metabolism.

Hans Clevers, Professor of Molecular Genetics at Hubrecht Institute.

For describing the role of Wnt signaling in tissue stem cells and cancer.

Titia de Lange, Leon Hess Professor, Head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics, and Director of the Anderson Center for Cancer Research at the Rockefeller University.

For research on telomeres, illuminating 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. Professor of Biology at MIT. Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School.

For the discovery of 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, Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

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. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

For cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes.

Robert A. Weinberg, Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research at MIT and Director of the MIT/Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology. Member, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

For characterization of human cancer genes.

Shinya Yamanaka, Director of Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University. Senior Investigator, Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco.

For induced pluripotent stem cells.

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