Some of the world’s best-known technology tycoons, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, launched a $15-million annual prize on Wednesday to reward groundbreaking achievements in life sciences.

The idea behind the Breakthrough Prize for Life Sciences is to generate excitement and financial reward for outstanding scientific achievement, similar to those generated by athletes.

In the inaugural year, prizes of $3 million each were awarded to 11 scientists in the field of cancer and genetic research.

Creating household names

“We are thrilled to support scientists who think big, take risks and have made a significant impact on our lives. These scientists should be household names and heroes in society,” said director Anne Wojcicki, who is Mr. Brin’s wife and founder of the personal genome company 23andMe.

“Curing a disease should be worth more than a touchdown,” said Ms. Wojcicki.