Mike Isaac

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Zuckerberg, Milner, Brin and Other Tech Titans Donate Millions to Science

When you’re as rich as some of the Silicon Valley elite, most anything is at your fingertips. Jetpacks, yachts, skydiving while wearing augmented reality headgear. Oh, and there’s that whole philanthropy thing, too.

A few are opting for that last option with the launch of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation on Wednesday, a non-profit organization drummed up by a handful of tech billionaires.

“I think that our society needs more heroes, more scientists, more researchers, more engineers,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one of the sponsors of the foundation, at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday. “The things that we can do from the sidelines are build institutions that celebrate your work.”

The prize aims to spur innovation in the field of science research and is backed by tech luminaries including Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner, who reached out to Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin months ago to talk about launching the foundation. Art Levinson, Apple chairman and former CEO of Genentech, will act as the chairman of the board for the foundation.

The first round of prize recipients includes 11 scientists from a range of research disciplines, including studies in genetics, cancer research and neural behavior. Each of the 11 prize winners will receive a $3 million award for their work, and Brin, Zuckerberg, Milner and the rest of the sponsors have agreed to a five-year commitment to awarding prizes.

For now, the group’s board intends to remain small. Milner said the design of the five-person board — which also includes Zuckerberg’s wife Priscilla Chan and Brin’s wife Anne Wojcicki (a biology analyst and co-founder of 23 and Me) — is purposely small, targeting research on five specific diseases chosen by the board members. Wojcicki’s donation will go to supporting Parkinson’s research; the other sponsors haven’t named their chosen diseases yet.

At the same time, Zuckerberg said there’s room for expansion. “We specifically said we weren’t going to name the prize after a specific person,” he said, in order to potentially attract more sponsors in the tech industry.

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