Why Silicon Valley wants us to live longer

February 21, 2013: 7:46 AM ET

Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Yuri Milner, Art Levinson, and others form a new prize for health care breakthroughs.

By Kurt Wagner, reporter

130220163138-breakthrough-prize-340xaFORTUNE -- Top decision-makers from Apple, Google, and Facebook were in agreement Wednesday afternoon: They want us all the live longer.

Some of Silicon Valley's most influential minds -- including Facebook (FB) founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google (GOOG) founder Sergey Brin -- announced a new award that will honor research aimed at major health advancements, including "curing intractable diseases and extending human life," according to the prize description. The award's founders were on hand at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine to present 11 inaugural recipients with the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. The new honor, known simply as the "Breakthrough Prize," will be awarded annually to five recipients. It comes with a $3 million prize.

At Wednesday's announcement, Zuckerberg and Brin were joined by the award's other founders: Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of personal genetics company 23andMe and Brin's wife; Yuri Milner, founder of European Internet company Mail.ru; and Arthur D. Levinson, chairman of both Apple (AAPL) and Genentech, who will also chair the new foundation. Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg's wife and a med-school graduate from UCSF, is also a co-founder.

The prize is meant to encourage and reward scientists and medical professionals who are oftentimes overlooked, says Zuckerberg, who donated $500 million in Facebook shares to charity last December. Wojcicki, whose passion came out as she spoke into the microphone, added that she hopes this prize inspires medical professionals to continue changing the world. "Health care is filled with really, really wonderful people trying to make a difference," she said. "And they do that without seeking fame and money."

Future award recipients will be selected by previous winners, starting with this year's inaugural group. As of now, there are no plans to expand the team of sponsors by adding other top CEOs. However, an expansion in the number of sponsors and amount of prize money is expected sometime in the future, according to Milner. One prize each year will go toward research aimed at curing Parkinson's Disease, a personal pursuit for Brin who has the Parkinson's gene. Brin has donated well over $100 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research since discovering he had the gene himself in 2008. The other four awards have not yet been tied to a specific disease.

As students from the UCSF School of Medicine looked down from the second and third floors of the atrium, the prize founders routinely addressed the future generation of medical professionals. "A lot of this isn't really about you guys here today," said Zuckerberg, in his signature black hoodie. "I think a lot of what we're doing here is about the next generations."

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