Sean Parker
Sean Parker

Because there is currently no cure for cancer, one of the most important things we can do as individuals and as a society is to promote research and development efforts that are looking at alternative and emerging cancer treatments, in the hopes that one day they will lead to a cure.

Sean Parker – a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has made a name for himself through involvement with digital services such as Facebook, Spotify, and Napster – today announced that he is putting some of his fortune into finding a cure for cancer. This new program, called the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, will focus on immunotherapy, an experimental cancer treatment that shows promise toward developing a potential cure.

Time for More Research

Part of Parker’s drive to fund immunotherapy treatments is that he believes cancer research has made little progress over the last several decades, despite the great amounts of money that have been spent developing new drugs. “Average life expectancy has only increased three to six months,” he explained, “with some of these drugs that cost billions to develop.”

The new Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will bring together hundreds researchers from more than three dozen laboratories across the country, including the University of California, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, Stanford Medicine, and Memorial Sloan Kettering. By bringing these researchers together, Parker hopes to expedite research by making results broadly available without restrictions or barriers.

“Any breakthrough made at one center is immediately available to another center,” Parker said, indicating that needless bureaucracy and intellectual property entanglements. Licensing would be handled later in the drug development process than under current practice, and any new patents would be shared between researchers and the institute.

Sharing data and outcomes is something that scientists are excited about. Dr. Jedd Wolchok, the head of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, indicated his enthusiasm for the new center, stating, “I have no doubt this will allow us to make progress, and to make it much more quickly.”

Hopes Resting on Immunotherapy

Although immunotherapy is still a relatively new treatment, many people are hoping that it will lead to new understandings of how cancer works and possibly even lead to a cure.

One immunotherapy drug, Keytruda (pembrolizumab), recently came into the national spotlight when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced that he was free of cancer after taking it. Keytruda was only approved by the FDA in 2014, and there are still dozens of ongoing clinical trials testing the efficacy of the treatment.

For rarer cancers like mesothelioma, this is especially promising, since immunotherapy uses an individual’s own immune system to help fight the cancer. In this way, targeted treatments can be developed, making it easier to successfully treat rare forms of cancer that otherwise might not respond to less individualized treatments.

Projects like the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will undoubtedly help bring these emerging treatments into the spotlight, where more people will become aware of them.