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Tech billionaire donates $250m for cancer 'moonshot'

World News
Wed, 13 Apr 2016

Tech billionaire Sean Parker announced Wednesday a $250 million grant to fund research aimed at breakthroughs in cancer treatment through immunotherapy.

Parker, the founder of music-sharing service Napster and an early investor and executive at Facebook, will create a centre for immunotherapy – which aims to use the body's immune system to fight the disease – collaborating with six US-based cancer research institutions.

"We are at an inflection point in cancer research and now is the time to maximise immunotherapy's unique potential to transform all cancers into manageable diseases, saving millions of lives," said Parker, who last year created the Parker Foundation.

"We believe that the creation of a new funding and research model can overcome many of the obstacles that currently prevent research breakthroughs. Working closely with our scientists and more than 30 industry partners, the Parker Institute is positioned to broadly disseminate discoveries and, most importantly, more rapidly deliver treatments to patients."

Almost 600,000 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2016, according to the American Cancer Society, which translates to more than 1,600 people a day.

It is the second most common cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease, and accounts for nearly one of every four deaths.

The new Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will work with over 40 laboratories and more than 300 researchers and immunologists. All the research and intellectual property will be shared, "enabling all researchers to have immediate access to a broad swath of core discoveries," according to a statement.

The centre will be headed by University of California-San Francisco scientist Jeffrey Bluestone, who was named to a panel to help guide the "moonshot" cancer initiative announced this year by Vice President Joe Biden.

"Immunotherapy represents a fundamentally new, breakthrough treatment paradigm in the fight against cancer. It harnesses the body's own powerful immune system to mobilise its highly refined disease-fighting arsenal to engage and eliminate the cancer cells," Bluestone said.

"Our scientists are leaders in the field and will now work together to make discoveries to treat and potentially cure cancer."

Bluestone was the founder and served for 10 years as director of the Immune Tolerance Network, a multicentre clinical immunology research programme.

Partners in the project in addition to UCSF include the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, Stanford Medicine, UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre.

Parker and his wife Alexandra were holding a gala event in Los Angeles to mark the launch.

The event is to "unveil and celebrate a new philanthropic venture and recognise the heroes who, over the last decades, have brought us to this turning point in the war on cancer," a statement from the foundation said.

Attendees expected include stars such as Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Sean Penn and Ron Howard, as well as tech industry leaders such as Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Anne Wojcicki of Google and Laurene Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs.

The event was to feature a musical performance by John Legend and "a surprise guest."

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