What Urged Billionaire Sean Parker To Donate $250 Million To Cancer Immunotherapy Research

Following the death of someone close to him, Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker has donated $250 million to fund cancer immunotherapy research spearheaded by different researchers in the field. Sean made the donation because he wanted to foster collaborative work among the researchers. He believes that working this way can speed the development of efficient cancer treatments.

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco will support more than 40 laboratories and 300 researchers from six leading cancer centers, including the Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, the University of Texas MD Anderson in Houston, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the University of California in Los Angeles, the University of California in San Francisco, and Stanford Medicine.

The tech mogul told Reuters that cancer immunotherapy is an intricate field that entails the knowledge of experts.
"Cancer immunotherapy is such an incredibly complex field, and for every answer, it seems to pose 10 more questions. I'm an entrepreneur so I wish some of these questions had been answered yesterday."
Even if the researchers will continue to work in the laboratories of their respective institutions, Sean's assistance will now enable them to borrow things from each other's lab, as well as share findings seamlessly. "Any breakthrough made at one center is immediately available to another center without any kind of IP (intellectual property) entanglements or bureaucracy," he emphasized.

The researchers will also conduct joint clinical trials using the data that they have collected. The funds donated will greatly help the researchers focus on their work because securing financial assistance used to take up a lot of their time.

Discoveries made by the researchers will be shared with the institute, while stakeholders have yet to discuss the licensing deals. UCSF professor and immunotherapy expert Jeff Bluestone has been appointed as Parker Institute's president.

The new institute will concentrate on studies pertaining to the body's defense mechanism against cancer cells. Although there are recently approved drugs that have successfully helped several patients sustain remission, these drugs did not work as expected for everyone. Scientists are doing their best to find out how to strengthen the effects of these medicines.

As per Parker, the institute will delve into three key research areas – the modification of a patient's own immune system to fight a tumor, the preparation of the patient's body to respond better to immunotherapy drugs, and the identification of other novel targets that could ward off the tumor.

With 1.7 million Americans diagnosed each year with cancer, Sean couldn't think of a more appropriate time to accelerate research. He promised that he would devote himself to his new project, as opposed to other philanthropists who typically take a step back after establishing research institutes.

The death of film producer and Stand Up to Cancer founder Laura Ziskin prompted Sean to think of the project. The Pretty Woman producer died of breast cancer in 2011. Sean credited his friend as the person who influenced his thinking about the illness. "Losing Laura transformed me," he said.

laura ziskin cancer
(Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

The former Facebook president is also financially backing the legalization of marijuana in California. The entrepreneur talked to Forbes late last year about his stand on the issue.

"It's very encouraging to see a vibrant community of activists, many of whom have dedicated their lives to this issue, coming together around a sensible reform based measure that protects children, gives law enforcement additional resources, and establishes a strong regulatory framework for responsible adult use of marijuana–one that will yield economic benefits for all Californians."
The proposed legalization will allow individuals 21 years or older to purchase and posses up to an ounce of marijuana. The new law will also permit the charging of sales and cultivation taxes that will reportedly go to substance abuse education programs, as well as other law enforcement initiatives.

(Image via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)