- Internet billionaire Sean Parker has donated $250 million for the creation of a new institute aimed at accelerating the development of promising cancer immunotherapies, his foundation announced on Wednesday.
- The new Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will collaborate with six major cancer centers in the U.S: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Stanford University, UCLA, UCSF, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of Pennsylvania. Each branch of the Parker Institute will receive initial funding from the $250 million grant, and will share administration of all intellectual property.
- Parker has called his approach an "academic biotech" model, where his institute will pursue patents on inventions coming from the six centers, and then licensing them out, according to MIT Technology Review. Some of the patent revenue will in turn be reinvested in the initiative.
The Parker Institute will be headed up by CEO Jeffrey Bluestone, an immunologist from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).
Through the collaborations with the six cancer centers, more than 40 laboratories and over 300 researchers will be part of the new network. Additionally, other cancer organizations and big pharma companies have joined as potential partners, according to MIT Tech Review.
Despite the large donation and potential of immunotherapies, a cancer "cure" remains a lofty and exceedingly difficult goal. The National Cancer Institute spends roughly $5 billion per year on cancer research, and drug companies spend even more, but new drugs often offer only incremental progress.
Nonetheless, promising response rates to new immunotherapies have generated excitement and significant investments from big pharma. Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck have led the way with their PD1 inhibitors Opdivo and Keytruda, respectively. They have led to complete remission in some cases (notably Jimmy Carter after receiving Keytruda) but don't work for everyone.