Whitehead Member Robert Weinberg to receive new breakthrough prize in life sciences

Whitehead Institute Founding Member Robert Weinberg is among 11 scientists to receive the new Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, intended to recognize excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.

The prize—whose founding sponsors include Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, founder of the personal genetics information company 23andMe, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner—awards each recipient $3 million for “past achievements in the field of life sciences, with the aim of providing the recipients with more freedom and opportunity to pursue even greater future accomplishments.”

The value of the Breakthrough Prize is more than double that of the Nobel Prize.

Weinberg says he was stunned upon learning he was being honored with the prize, admitting he’s feeling a bit overwhelmed by the news.

“How can one respond when someone calls you up and says that suddenly you are being recognized in this way?” Weinberg notes. “It’s unreal, and I’m still processing it all.”

Arthur Levinson, Chairman of the Board of Apple and Chairman and former CEO of Genentech, will chair the foundation that oversees administration of the prize. In announcing the inaugural recipients today, Levinson stated: “I believe this new prize will shine a light on the extraordinary achievements of the outstanding minds in the field of life sciences, enhance medical innovation, and ultimately become a platform for recognizing future discoveries.”

The foundation has dedicated itself to supporting groundbreaking research, celebrating scientists, and inspiring the pursuit of careers in science.

“We are thrilled to support scientists who think big, take risks and have made a significant impact on our lives,” Wojcicki said. “These scientists should be household names and heroes in society.”

Awardees in addition to Weinberg, who is also a professor of biology at MIT include: Eric Lander, a former Whitehead Member and Whitehead Fellow who is now Director of the Broad Institute; Rockefeller University professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Cornelia Bargmann, who trained under Weinberg in the 1980s, and induced pluripotent stem cell pioneer and Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and Gladstone Institutes.