Sean Parker puts $250m into new cancer immunotherapy project

13 Apr 2016

Sean Parker image via JD Lasica/Flickr

Sean Parker, the founder of Napster and first president of Facebook, has donated $250m in a bid to place immunotherapy top of the list in cancer treatments.

Immunotherapy is big business of late. It stimulates patients’ immune systems to fight cancer, as opposed to chemotherapy, which kills off cells to eliminate it.

And it has recently gotten another high-profile backer in Sean Parker. I say ‘another’, because in recent times US President Barack Obama has pledged $1bn in federal funds to research the treatment.

United we stand

This time around, though, Parker’s putting $250m of his own money into an extensive project that brings rival hospitals together, into one foundation, to develop ways to bring immunotherapy front and centre in the fight to cure cancer.

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will include more than 40 laboratories and more than 300 researchers from six separate cancer centres throughout the US.

Parker said any breakthroughs will be made immediately available to all partners in the group “without any kind of intellectual property entanglements or bureaucracy”.

The logic is obvious: remove the restrictions that the competitive, privatised health sector in the US operates under and maybe, just maybe, more progress can be made.

“Very little progress has been made over the last several decades,” Parker said, referring to cancer drug research. “Average life expectancy has only increased three to six months with some of these drugs that cost billions to develop.”

Front-line treatment

Speaking to USA Today last month, Parker lamented that immunotherapy is “a treatment of last resort”, only being used after patients’ immune systems have been destroyed by several bouts of chemotherapy and radiation.

“I want to make it a front-line treatment,” Parker said at the time. “It would change the whole cost of care downstream.”

How do you make it happen? Pour some of your vast fortune into it, that’s how. And it’s a tactic Parker has used many times before. As TechCrunch notes, a significant amount of money has been invested by Parker on research into diabetes and allergies, as well as another $600m charitable foundation he set up last year.

Parker said the current system of cancer drug development discouraged the kinds of risk-taking that could lead to a major breakthrough. This new six-institute strong body, though, might change that.

Sean Parker image via JD Lasica/Flickr

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic