Eleven scientists became overnight multimillionaires when they were announced as the first recipients of the new Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences this week. The world’s richest academic award for medicine and biology was created by Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Yuri Milner, Arthur Levinson and Mark Zuckerberg — Internet titans with a combined net worth of $34 billion.

The prize’s founders are no strangers to philanthropy. Last year Milner created the Fundamental Physics Prize, the predecessor to the new award, which he launched by awarding nine theoretical physicists $3 million each. Brin and Wojcicki, who are husband and wife, have donated generously to Parkinson’s causes, and have given $30 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Brin Wojcicki Challenge alone. Zuckerberg has promised to give away half his wealth as a Giving Pledge signatory, and last December he gave a whopping $500 million in Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

This year's honored scientists, whose fields include genetics, stem cells and cancer, will receive $3 million each, more than double that of a Nobel Prize. The Breakthrough Prize will continue annually, with five winners to be selected every year.

The first group of researchers are Cornelia I. Bargmann of Rockefeller University in New York City; David Botstein of Princeton University; Lewis C. Cantley of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City; Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands; Napoleone Ferrara of the University of California, San Diego; Titia de Lange of Rockefeller University; Eric S. Lander of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge; Charles L. Sawyers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City; Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.; Robert A. Weinberg of MIT; and the 2012 Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco.

Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page, “Our society needs more heroes who are scientists, researchers and engineers. We need to celebrate and reward the people who cure diseases, expand our understanding of humanity and work to improve people's lives.”

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

Mark Matthews of ABC7 News reports on the announcement and talks to one of the winners in the video below.

High-tech billionaires create $3 million prizes for life sciences
Mark Zuckerberg and others announce the Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences to help cure intractable diseases.