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Sean Parker is on a mission to solve cancer

TechCrunch TechCrunch 12/04/2016 Sarah Buhr

Sean Parker, the self-made billionaire who, at the tender age of 19, sparked the digital music revolution, has been at the forefront of some of the most meaningful disruptions of our day from file sharing to social engagement. Cancer immunotherapy is his next big bet.

The Napster founder and former Facebook president persuaded hundreds of top scientists within various research universities across the U.S. to form an alliance to solve cancer using cutting-edge immunotherapy.

Called the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, the organization is a $250 million undertaking that will enable some of the country’s best researchers unprecedented access to the latest information from pharma and from each other in cancer immunotherapy – a type of treatment harnessing the body’s own immune response to kill off cancerous cells.

The institute will be made up of more than 300 scientists, 40 labs and top researchers in cancer immunotherapy from UCSF, UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, MD Anderson, and Memorial Sloan Kettering.

But getting all those organizations to work together is no small ask. Most clinical drug trials take several years of rigorous research and up to billions of dollars before getting to the patient. Meanwhile, people are dying.

Part of the problem is the competitive nature of the medical research field – institutions often work against each other to find something new. Instead, Parker’s institution wants them to work together to find the cure.

“We are at the bleeding edge of what’s possible with synthetic biology and immunology and genomics in terms of actually translating those discoveries into therapies that can treat and cure patients,” Parker told TechCrunch.

Immunotherapy is one of the hottest topics in biotech right now – even the White House wants in with Obama’s $1 billion cancer moonshot initiative.

But immunotherapy is only part of it for Parker. His new institute is one of many charities he’s set up the last year and a half involving medical research, including for autoimmune research for diabetes and allergies and $600 million for the umbrella Sean N. Parker Foundation.

He also gave $500 million toward a plan to legalize marijuana in California.

Parker, worth about $3 billion, seems to have given a large chunk of his fortune away in the last few years. By our estimates, he’s set up foundations or given away more than a third of his wealth so far.

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