Make It Rain

Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin Cut Big Checks to Reward ‘Extending Human Life’

"Curing a disease should be worth more than a touchdown."
Meanwhile, in Zucklandia...

When does Snoop get his award for a lifetime of medical marijuana research?

Here’s the thing about philanthropy: There’s always plenty of people more than happy to accept a generous cash donation. Hence, Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize, which he launched back in August as his very own version of the Nobel Prize for Physics, is branching out. The prize will no longer go to just physicists doomed to toil in obscurity, as Mr. Milner has enlisted several Silicon Valley heavyweights to contribute to a new Life Sciences franchise.

Art Levinson (former Genentech CEO, Apple chairman) has signed on as chairman, while Mr. Milner, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki (of 23andMe and also wife to Mr. Brin), Mark Zuckerberg, and Priscilla Chan are all founding sponsors, as well. (Though it’s not clear who coughed up how much.) They plan to dole out five $3 million prizes annually going forward, with alums selecting the honorees. 

This year’s winners were selected for things like “linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using DNA polymorphis” and “describing the role of Wnt signaling in tissue stem cells and cancer” and “cancer genes and targeted therapy.” You know, just the kinds of projects that make even billionaire startup founders feel like maybe they aren’t God’s gift, after all.

“These scientists should be household names and heros in society,” said Ms. Wojcicki in a statement. Her husband added: “Curing a disease should be worth more than a touchdown.” We’re guessing Sergey is not a 49ers bandwagon fan, in that case?

Said Zuck:

“Priscilla and I are honored to be part of this,” said Mark Zuckerberg. “We believe the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences has the potential to provide a platform for other models of philanthropy, so people everywhere have an opportunity at a better future.”

Always with the platforms! We do hope, however, that this is the result of long-term planning and not because Zuck forgot Valentine’s Day.

We cannot wait for Peter Thiel to participate in the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for Literature, heavily skewed toward authors influenced by the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.

(Updated: 2:50 p.m.) The boy billionaires sponsoring this prize put on a press conference this afternoon, in order to answer a few questions about their initiative meant to reward “excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” Guess they figure we already have some extra time to kill in our soon-to-be-extended lifespans, because Misters Zuckerberg and Milner in particular were an hour late showing up, then said very little that hadn’t already appeared in the press release.

Don’t they get that all we want to know is where this puts us on the countdown to the Singularity?

“People doing this amazing work should get more recognition–not just for themselves, but for all of society,” said Mr. Zuckerberg when he finally arrived. “This isn’t a prize where we’re trying to have an impact this year.” Gotta do something to check The Social Network Effect, if only for the sake of karma.

Mr. Brin did not speak, but rather sat in the audience watching his wife (who sounded great, actually), Google Glass perched on his nose.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com