Sean Parker, the founder of music-sharing service Napster and the founding president of Facebook has announced a grant of $250 million to fund research aimed at breakthroughs in cancer treatment through immunotherapy. The tech billionaire will be setting up a center for immunotherapy in collaboration with six US-based cancer research institutions including Manhattan's Memorial Sloan Kettering and Stanford that aims to use the body`s immune system to fight the disease.
"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," said Parker, who last year created the Parker Foundation.
"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."
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease, and accounts for nearly one of every four deaths. Nearly six lakh Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2016, according to the American Cancer Society, which translates to more than 1,600 people a day.
Parker's enormous cash infusion is the largest ever for cancer immunotherapy — and one of the largest ever for cancer research — and comes three months after President Obama called for a $1 billion federal cancer research program that he dubbed a “moonshot."
The new Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will work with over 40 laboratories and more than 300 researchers and immunologists. All the research and intellectual property will be shared, "enabling all researchers to have immediate access to a broad swath of core discoveries," according to a statement.The center will be headed by the University of California-San Francisco scientist Jeffrey Bluestone, who was the founder and served for 10 years as director of the Immune Tolerance Network, a multi-center clinical immunology research program.
"Immunotherapy represents a fundamentally new, breakthrough treatment paradigm in the fight against cancer. It harnesses the body`s own powerful immune system to mobilize its highly refined disease-fighting arsenal to engage and eliminate the cancer cells," Bluestone said.
"Our scientists are leaders in the field and will now work together to make discoveries treat and potentially cure cancer."
The institute also hopes to improve upon what it calls slow progress in improving cancer survival rates. In the last 20 years, federal data show the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is up from just over 13 percent to about 17 percent.