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Paying it forward: Breakthrough Prize winners support next generation of scientists

Monday, May 12, 2014

Photo of Dr. CantleyDr. Lewis Cantley Following last year's announcement of the first-ever Breakthrough Prizes, established by a well-known 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, M.D., of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Cornelia I. Bargmann, Ph.D., of the Rockefeller University; and Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., 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. Including financial commitments made by each of their respective institutions, the award will be sustained by a $3 million endowment.

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."

Dr. Cantley is the director 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 discovered the signaling pathway phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K), the most commonly mutated gene across cancers. The discovery has resulted in revolutionary treatments for cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.

Dr. Cantley is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Among his other awards are the ASBMB Avanti Award for Lipid Research in 1998; the Heinrich Weiland Preis for Lipid Research in 2000; the Caledonian Prize from the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2002; the 2005 Pezcoller Foundation–AACR International Award for Cancer Research; the 2009 Rolf Luft Award for Diabetes and Endocrinology Research from the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm; the 2011 Pasrow Prize for Cancer Research; and in 2013, the Breakthrough in Life Sciences Prize and the Jacobæus Prize.