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Mark Zuckerberg co-sponsors $33M prize to extend human life

Backed by tech luminaries, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, a $3 million reward, is being presented to 11 different scientists for their efforts to cure diseases.

Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner discuss the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences at UCSF.
James Martin/CNET

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, 2012's second-most generous donors, are lending their considerable social-network fortune to help extend human life.

The newlywed couple joins Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki, along with famed venture capitalist Yuri Milner, as founding sponsors of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, a substantial $3 million financial reward that will be doled out annually to ambitious scientists working to cure complex diseases.

"Our society needs more heroes who are scientists, researchers, and engineers," Facebook's chief executive wrote in a status update this morning. "We need to celebrate and reward the people who cure diseases, expand our understanding of humanity, and work to improve people's lives."

Going forward, Zuckerberg and the philanthropic bunch have collectively agreed to establish five annual prizes, which will be administered by the nonprofit Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation.

Today, the first 11 award winners, each of whom are receiving the $3 million prize, are being recognized at an inaugural event hosted at the University of California, San Francisco. The 11 recipients are Cornelia I. Bargmann, David Botstein, Lewis C. Cantley, Hans Clevers, Napoleone Ferrara, Titia de Lange, Eric S. Lander, Charles L. Sawyers, Bert Vogelstein, Robert A. Weinberg, and Shinya Yamanaka.

"At $3 million per prize, it's the largest prize for this work in the world," Zuckerberg said. "I'm hopeful this serves as a blueprint for prizes and philanthropy in other fields as well."