Sean Parker sets up $250M cancer immunotherapy collaboration

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April 13 (Reuters) - A $250 million grant from Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker, announced on Wednesday, aims to speed development of more effective cancer treatments by fostering collaboration among leading researchers in the field.

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

"Any breakthrough made at one center is immediately available to another center without any kind of IP (intellectual property) entanglements or bureaucracy," Parker, the co-founder of music-sharing website Napster and the first president of Facebook, told Reuters in an interview.

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Sean Parker sets up $250M cancer immunotherapy collaboration
CNBC EVENTS -- Pictured: Sean Parker (R) and J. Craig Venter , Co-Founder, CEO, and Chairman, Human Logevity, Inc., during a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, in New York City on September 29, 2015; The panel also included Edward Norton, actor, activist and Co-Founder CrowdRise -- (Photo by: Adam Jeffery/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 10: Sean Parker (L) and Janet Pierson, producer SXSW Film Festival, attend the World Premiere of 'Downloaded' during the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Paramount Theatre on March 10, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW)
FILE PHOTO: 'BEST PHOTOS OF 2012' (***BESTOF2012***): Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster Inc. and managing partner of the Founders Fund, stands for a photograph following a television interview on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. The 42nd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum will be attended by about 2,600 political, business and financial leaders at the five-day conference. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Sean Parker (L) and Lars Ulrich attend the 2012 Spotify press event on December 6, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Sean Parker arrives at Stand Up To Cancer at The Shrine Auditorium on September 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Airtime Co-founder and Executive Chairman Sean Parker at the Airtime Launch Press Conference at Milk Studios on June 5, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/WireImage for Airtime)
ROCK CENTER WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS -- Pictured: Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker -- (Photo by: Heidi Gutman/NBC)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 22: (L-R) Goldie Hawn and Sean Parker attend the 3rd Annual TechFellow Awards at SF MOMA on February 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images For Techfellows)
Napster co-founder, Sean Parker, General Partner of Founders Fund, talks at LeWeb 11 event in Saint-Denis, suburbs of Paris, on December 9, 2011. Top industry entrepreneurs, executives, investors, senior press and bloggers gathered during three days to explore the key issues and opportunities in the web marketplace. AFP PHOTO ERIC PIERMONT (Photo credit should read ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 17: Supyo co-founder Sean Parker speaks during the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit on October 17, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The 2011 Web 2.0 Summit features keynote addresses by Internet and technology leaders and runs through Wednesday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Entrepreneur Sean Parker (L) and singer Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction pose at Sean Parker's Celebration of Music on September 22, 2011 in San Francisco, California.
Sean Parker, managing partner of Founders Fund, speaks during The Daily Beast's Inaugural Innovators Summit in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 22, 2010. The Daily Beast website, which is co-owned by Tina Brown and Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp, ended merger talks with Sidney Harman's Newsweek magazine earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported. Photographer: Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The institute will focus on the emerging field of cancer immunotherapy, which harnesses the body's immune system to fight cancer cells.

Recently approved drugs such as Yervoy and Opdivo from Bristol Myers Squibb Co and Merck & Co Inc's Keytruda have helped some patients sustain remission. But those first-generation therapies do not work for everyone, and scientists are trying to understand how to make them more effective.

"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."


The institute has identified three key areas of research - modifying a patient's own immune system T-cells to target a tumor; studying ways to boost patient response to current immunotherapy drugs; and research to identify other novel targets to attack a tumor.

Parker said the current system of cancer drug development discouraged the kinds of risk-taking that could lead to a major breakthrough.

The new institute "is paradigm shifting," said Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of the melanoma and immunotherapeutics unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

He said it would alleviate the need for scientists to secure grants, which he said took up at least 30 percent of his time, foster collaboration among accomplished scientists and provide access to the newest information processing and data technology.

"I have no doubt this will allow us to make progress, and to make it much more quickly," Wolchok said.

The Parker Institute aims to ensure members can easily share research discoveries and tools, as well as jointly conduct clinical trials with standardized data collection and operations.

Parker said the aim was to maximize the return on investment by holding off on licensing deals until later in the research process, or even after a drug has been approved by regulators. Any profits would be funneled back into the institute.

Patented discoveries made by the cancer center researchers will be shared 50-50 with the institute. A committee with members from each cancer center as well as representatives of the Parker Institute will review potential licensing deals.

Jeff Bluestone, a professor at UCSF and an early researcher of immunotherapy, was appointed president of the Parker Institute.

Parker credited his late friend Laura Ziskin, a Hollywood producer known for such films as "Pretty Woman" and founder of Stand Up To Cancer, with raising his awareness of the need to overhaul cancer research. She died of the disease in 2011.

"Losing Laura transformed me," he said. (Reporting by Deena Beasley in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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