Paying It Forward: Breakthrough Prize Winners and Institutions Commit $3 Million in Support of Next Generation of Scientists

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Charles L. Sawyers, MD

Cornelia I. Bargmann, PhD

Lewis C. Cantley, PhD

Following last year’s announcement of the first-ever Breakthrough Prizes, established by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to celebrate scientists and encourage careers in the field, the winners were frequently asked what they would do with their newfound prize money of $3 million each. Three of the winners — Charles L. Sawyers, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Cornelia I. Bargmann, PhD, of the Rockefeller University, and Lewis C. Cantley, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medical College — have answered that question by collaborating to “invest” in the next generation of scientists. They have committed a portion of their Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences award to establish a new annual prize for promising postdoctoral trainees. The award will be sustained by a $3 million endowment, including financial commitments made by each of their respective institutions,

Tri-Institutional Breakout Awards

The Tri-Institutional Breakout Awards for Junior Investigators will be given to three to six outstanding postdoctoral trainees every year, with each recipient receiving $25,000. One prize will be awarded to an applicant from each of the three founding institutions, and additional awards will be given to the best candidates, regardless of their institutional affiliation. The inaugural winners will be announced by the end of 2014.  

“By establishing the Tri-Institutional Breakout Awards we hope to stimulate young scientists at the start of their careers,” said Dr. Sawyers. “I am grateful to the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation for raising the level of recognition for the life sciences community, and I hope that by creating an award for postdoctoral scholars, we can contribute to furthering that vision.”

“We want to recognize and encourage the rising stars in science,” said Dr. Bargmann. “With this prize for exceptional postdocs, we can highlight their talent, passion, and accomplishment and celebrate exciting discoveries in our community.”

“The Tri-Institutional Breakout Awards are a unique and powerful statement of our institutions’ support for early-career investigators,” Dr. Cantley said. “They will encourage our trainees to pursue innovative work and reinforce their commitment to critical basic science research.”

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences — established by Art Levinson, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, and Yuri Milner — “recognizes excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” Eleven inaugural winners each received $3 million to “advance breakthrough research, celebrate scientists and generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career.

About the Investigators

Dr. Sawyers is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator whose research focuses on cancer drug resistance with an eye toward developing innovative therapies. Dr. Sawyers completed his term as President of the American Association for Cancer Research in April and was recently appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Cancer Advisory Board. He is past President of the American Society of Clinical Investigation and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the Institute of Medicine. He is Chair of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering and holds the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Chair.

Dr. Bargmann is Torsten N. Wiesel Professor, Head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior; and codirector of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Center for Mind, Brain and Behavior at The Rockefeller University as well as an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. IDr. Bargmann currently co-chairs the working group at NIH that is planning President Obama’s Brain Initiative.

Dr. Cantley is the Drector of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center, the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor in Oncology Research, and Professor of Cancer Biology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. ■