Napster cofounder and early Facebook investor has dealt with a deathly allergy to nuts, including a few close calls.
But having already donated money to study allergies, Parker is turning his attention to an autoimmune disorder that's both more visible and more severe: Type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes is a condition where there's too much glucose in the blood. Typically, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone, to balance the glucose and help it get from the food you eat into your cells. If the pancreas doesn't create enough insulin or it doesn't work, blood sugar levels become too high or too low — a dangerous fluctuation that can lead to death.
A leading immunologist at UCSF, Dr. Jeff Bluestone, has been working on a way to eliminate the autoimmune disorder by genetically modifying cells, like in the way cell therapy is changing the way people treat cancer. To fund Bluestone's work, Parker is announcing today a $10 million gift to create a diabetes research lab in his name at UC San Francisco.
"Just 10 years ago this all seemed maybe theoretically possible, but it seemed like science fiction. But now it's happening in the clinic regularly," Parker said. "We're at the cusp of a revolution in many different fields largely due to this combination of genetics and the understanding of the immune system and widespread use of cell therapy."
Parker has been studying autoimmune disorders because of his own conditions, he said Monday on a conference call with reporters.
The tech mogul who made billions off Facebook is deathly allergic to nuts and donated $24 million to Stanford last winter to fund the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research.
"I had this kind of fascination and personal interest of the underlying mechanisms of autoimmunity and spent the better part of the decade of reading everything I could get my hands on, which includes research," Parker said, going on to cite the work of Bluestone.
The $10 million gift is aimed at helping Bluestone work on genetically modifying cells to eliminate Type 1 diabetes.
See photos of Parker through the years:
"The focus of this gift is autoimmunity, but very specifically a strategic targeted plan for eliminating — you're hesitant to use the cure word — but hoping to ultimately cure Type 1 diabetes," Parker said.
It isn't a "typical philanthropic gift" Parker said because of both its size and scale. Rather than throwing money at a large foundation, Parker focused on empowering the work of Bluestone and his lab. It's all still an experiment, but Parker said he could continue funding the project if it sees success in its efficacy tests.
In June, Parker gave $600 million to establish the Parker Foundation, which is where this pledge come from. Parker had previously donated $4.5 million to UCSF for malaria research. His foundation doesn't only focus on medicine, either. He's used his foundation to invest in Code for America while Parker himself leads political groups like Fwd.US and Causes. Forbes values Parker's net worth at $2.5 billion.