Home >> Lifestyle

Sean Parker backs $250 million revolutionary project to 'solve' cancer

Billionaire Sean Parker, famous for his role in establishing Napster and Facebook, is supporting a $250 million effort to tackle cancer.

The consortium, which will be officially announced Wednesday, concentrates its efforts on immunotherapy, a fairly new area of research that seeks to activate the body's own defense systems to fight distorted cancer cells.

More than 300 scientists at 40 labs in six organizations - Stanford, the University of California, San Francisco, and University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Pennsylvania, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center - have already come aboard.

Parker said, "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."

One of his central innovations and the one that at first, made some university partners awkward is that the institute will accept responsibility for licensing and negotiating with industry to pass any therapies to market.

The new institute will be headed by Jeff Bluestone, the respected former University of California, San Francisco, provost and immunologist. He is also one of 28 members of a blue-ribbon experts panel recently named by Vice President Biden to give advice to the government's $1 billion "moonshot" endeavor to cure cancer.

The last time a private group launched an ambitious project for a specific disease was when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda decided to control malaria.

While the Gates Foundation has been praised for saving lives through its work, philanthropy on such large scale isn't without critics. Parker said that while he acknowledges these concerns, the consortium is established to give researchers the freedom of innovation.

Given that nearly 1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year, plus the 600,000 who succumb to the disease, Parker said it's time to hasten research to find the answers. Unlike some philanthropists, Parker said he would continue to play a vital role in his new endeavor.