Hospitals

Internet billionaires favor cancer researchers with first $3M gifts from new foundation

Eleven scientists found out today that they are the “inaugural laureates” of the BreakThrough Prize in Life Sciences. Each one will receive $3 million from a new foundation of the same name. Seven of the winners are working on some aspect of cancer research from telomeres to cancer metabolism to tumor suppressor genes. In an […]

Eleven scientists found out today that they are the “inaugural laureates” of the BreakThrough Prize in Life Sciences. Each one will receive $3 million from a new foundation of the same name.
Seven of the winners are working on some aspect of cancer research from telomeres to cancer metabolism to tumor suppressor genes.

In an interview on NPR, one of the winners said, “To have people like this get involved is a real vote of confidence. It’s really encouraging for scientists to know that these people would take a step out from their very successful lives and appreciate what’s going on with biology.” Cornelia I. Bargmann of Rockefeller University won for her work on the genetics of neural circuits and behavior, and synaptic guidepost molecules.

Art Levinson, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan and Yuri Milner announced the awards today and will sponsor the foundation and the future prizes. Three of the six founders have links to healthcare: Levinson is the chairman of Genentech, Wojcicki is the founder of 23andMe, and Chan is a recent medical school graduate. Brin is a co-founder of Google and worth $23 billion. Zuckerberg is worth $20 billion. Milner was a co-founder of Mail.ru, a Internet service provider in Europe.

“Our society needs more heroes who are scientists and researchers and engineers,” Zuckerberg said during the NPR interview.

The other winners included:

  • David Botstein – proposed a method for constructing a genetic linkage map that was later used to identify several human disease genes including Huntington’s and BRCA1 and to .
  • Lewis C. Cantley – discovered and studies the enzyme PI-3-kinase, now known to be important to understanding cancer and diabetes.
  • Hans Clevers – has described the role of Wnt signaling in tissue stem cells and cancer.
  • Napoleone Ferrara – has made discoveries in the mechanisms of angiogenesis that led to therapies for cancer and eye diseases.
  • Titia de Lange – identified a binding factor on telomeres that she called TRF and has since defined the field of telomere protection.
  • Eric S. Lander – created many of the key tools of human genomics and have applied these tools to pioneer new ways to understand the basis of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and inflammatory diseases.
  • Charles L. Sawyers – investigating the signaling pathways that drive the growth of cancer cells.
  • Bert Vogelstein – uncovered the specific genes and mutations responsible for colorectal cancer and established a genetic model for cancer progression that has enhanced our understanding of the formation and development of all cancers.
    Robert A. Weinberg – known for the discovery of the first human oncogene – the ras oncogene that causes normal cells to form tumors, and the isolation of the first known tumor suppressor gene – the Rb gene.
  • Shinya Yamanaka discovered that when treated with four pieces of DNA (now called the Yamanaka factors), adult skin cells will revert back to their pluripotent state – and has won many awards, including the 2012 Nobel prize for medicine.

These winners will be on next year’s selection committee to recognize research to cure intractable diseases and extend human life. Winners will be asked to talk about their work in public speeches, and these lectures, together with supporting materials, will be made available to the public, on the Internet, of course.

{Image from National Cancer Institute}