Napster co-founder and early Facebook investor Sean Parker has put $250 million of his personal finances into a long-term cancer research programme.
The Parker Institute is set to specialise in the area of cancer immunotherapies, making this the single largest donation into this field to date.
The primary difference between immunotherapy treatment and chemotherapy is that instead of breaking down the immune system (as chemotherapy does before rebuilding it), immunotherapy aims to strengthen the body’s natural ability to fight off cancer cells.
“We are at an inflection point in cancer research and now is the time to maximize immunotherapy’s unique potential to transform all cancers into manageable diseases, saving millions of lives.
We believe that the creation of a new funding and research model can overcome many of the obstacles that currently prevent research breakthroughs.
Working closely with our scientists and more than 30 industry partners, the Parker Institute is positioned to broadly disseminate discoveries and, most importantly, more rapidly deliver treatments to patients.” – Sean Parker, April 2016.
The treatment is rising in popularity and Parker isn’t the only high-profile name to get involved. According to Science Alert:
Vice President Joe Biden and the Obama administration have asked for a $1 billion initiative for a ‘cancer moonshot‘ which will in part focus on immunotherapy. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others pledged $125 million to create a new immuno-oncology focused cancer institute at Johns Hopkins.
And Patrick Soon-Shiong, the CEO of NantWorks, set up a Cancer MoonShot2020 coalition that aims to bring together all the people developing immunotherapies to bridge research gaps. Pharmaceutical companies also have many types of these treatments already in clinical trials, and investors expect many of them will generate billions in sales in the next couple of years.
Sean Parker’s aim with The Parker Institute is to bring together a team of top scientists and researchers from across the US, namely; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Stanford Medicine; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; and University of Pennsylvania. These bodies, who would normally work in competition with each other, will be untied under Parker’s guidance in an attempt to push forward the fight against cancer.
But it’s not all plain sailing. According to Fast Company, who spoke with Parker about the endeavour:
The next step for researchers is to better understand why some patients aren’t receptive to immunotherapies at all, while others show near-miraculous improvement. Oncologists are also hoping to see new therapies for hematologic cancers, like leukemias and lymphomas. Some 1,500 cancer immunotherapy drugs are currently in the research and development pipeline.
It’s a promising move and, hopefully, more billionaires will follow suit. It’s comforting to know that not every nouveau-riche entrepreneur associated with the medical world is a Martin Shkreli character.