Led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and philanthropist Sean Parker, The Parker Foundation recently announced the launch of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. Following the recent loss of his close friend to cancer, Parker wants to figure out how to battle cancer and has particularly focused on the field of immuno-oncology. The friend whom Parker lost to cancer, Hollywood producer Laura Ziskin, participated in early clinical immunotherapy trials. Parker learned about immuno-oncology during her treatments, and he became intrigued about the possibility of harnessing the body’s own immune defenses to kill cancer cells. However, the treatments did not work for Ziskin. Parker launched his new program largely to find out why the treatments didn’t work for her. After all, the experimental treatments had worked for other patients.
In addition, Parker wondered why more people do not have access to cancer immunotherapies considering the impact that they have had on many of the most lethal forms of cancer. Only 4 percent of the $4.9 billion cancer research budget of the National Cancer Institute goes toward immuno-oncology research and development.
The Goals of The Parker Foundation
The Parker Foundation will use $250 million of Parker’s own money to invest in immunotherapy research. The Parker Foundation is taking a unique approach to the problem of cancer research funding, pulling from Parker’s own technology background. When he started his company Spotify, he encountered many issues related to intellectual property rights that he was able to overcome by creating agreements with the four major record labels. Parker sees a similar issue in cancer research. Since researchers and funders are reluctant to share their intellectual property for financial reasons, he believes that advancements have been stunted.
The Parker Foundation envisions a system that allows intellectual property to be shared openly between discoverers, funders, and developers in a manner that is both beneficial and equitable. In this way, a breakthrough in one lab could fuel further discoveries in another. Parker calls it the Immunotherapy “Dream Team”. The “Dream Team” plans to concentrate on dual approaches that combine clinical and laboratory efforts for immunological treatment, prevention, and control of cancer.
The Creation of an Immunotherapy “Dream Team”
Fueled by funding from The Parker Foundation, The “Dream Team” has a number of well-defined research goals based on advancements and setbacks in immunotherapy over the last couple decades. Specifically, researchers will look at the primary obstacles to therapeutic advancements, such as checkpoint inhibitors. One of the first goals of the research will be the use of various antibodies to inhibit immune checkpoints in the body. The checkpoints are a natural autoimmune defense system used by cancer cells to avoid an attack by killer T cells.
Some of the initial research undertaken by The “Dream Team” will involve the analysis of tumor samples exposed to checkpoint blockade or adoptive cell transfer (ACT), as well as potential synergistic combinations. The research could also identify specific biomarkers that make it possible to predict response or resistance to the therapies. A second goal is to look at ACT approaches to immuno-oncology, such as growing T lymphocytes in the lab with the ability to recognize and kill cancer cells. Moreover, The “Dream Team” hopes to identify factors that limit efficacy and more widespread applicability of current and future immunotherapies.
The Future of The Parker Foundation and The “Dream Team”
In order to achieve his goals, Parker has made a number of important partnerships. Recently, he met with Vice President Joe Biden, who is heading the Obama administration’s cancer initiative, as well as former President Jimmy Carter, who has become a spokesman for cancer immunotherapy following his own remarkable recovery, which was made possible by an experimental treatment. The Vatican also recently presented Parker with an award for his efforts to boost immunotherapy research and put an end to cancer.
As The Parker Foundation makes clear in its mission statement, no other cancer treatment beside immunotherapy has created durable remission in advanced tumors. The organization hopes to remove the organizational and financial barriers to success that limit advancements. The current cancer research and development pipeline continues to focus primarily on targeted agents and novel chemotherapies. However, funding from The Parker Foundation and the creation of The “Dream Team”, complete with an open-source approach to intellectual property, could invoke a serious change in the global approach to cancer treatment.
The “Dream Team”, assembled by the Cancer Research Institute and Stand Up to Cancer, consists of researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the California Institute of Technology, the Netherlands Cancer Institute, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Individuals from other leading research institutions, such as the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are also involved in project leadership. The team has a budget of $10 million for the next three years to work toward its goals.