Tech Supergroup Unveils Multimillion-Dollar Life Science Grant Competition

Some of the biggest names in the tech industry recently came together to announce the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, a competition for the biology research community that rewards researchers who develop cures for "intractable diseases" and can manage to "extend human life." The prize itself is a $3 million grant awarded to each scientist. The founders have visions of making the Breakthrough Prize as important as the Nobel prizes. (Yes, the Breakthrough Prize Is Double the Size of the Nobel.)

The prize competition's founders are: Art Levinson, who serves as chairman of both Apple and Genentech; Google cofounder Sergey Brin and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, who is a cofounder of genetic mapping startup 23andMe; Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; and tech investment guru Yuri Milner. Levinson will serve as the chairman of the foundation. Among those occupying seats on the board for the prize will be Larry Page, CEO of Google, and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. (Read Elon Musk's IP profile.)

During the unveiling of the competition, the first 11 winners of the individual $3 million prizes also were announced. Among them: Eric Lander, who oversaw most of the sequencing of the human genome; Robert Weinberg, who categorized the first genes known to cause cancer; neurobiologist Cornelia Bargmann; geneticist Hans Clevers; and molecular biologist Napolean Ferrara. In the future, there will be five Breakthrough Prizes awarded each year.

One unique aspect of the prize is that the selection process will be open and transparent, with the winners decided by a number of people besides the rich donors on the board and backers. The winners themselves will be a part of the selection committee for future prizes. Also, anyone will be able to nominate any candidate for consideration, and there are absolutely no age restrictions. There are no limits on the number of times a scientist can receive a prize, and the number of scientists who recieve a $3 million grant can vary from year to year.

The goal of the prize is to encourage innovation through competition. In a statement announcing the prize, Mark Zuckerberg (read Mark Zuckerberg's IP profile) says the funders believe the prize has "the potential to provide a platform for other models of philanthropy, so people everywhere have an opportunity at a better future." With a $3 million prize for each scientist up for grabs, competition will probably be keen. It will be interesting to see if the transparency enhances or hurts the innovation that should result from such competition.