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Sean Parker and Cancer Immunotherapy

Sean Parker (left) with Jeffrey Bluestone and Katie Couric.
Image from UCSF.
As mentioned in our last podcast, Sean Parker is making headlines and waves with his new $250 million grant and Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which is aimed at eradicating cancer. Chances are, you’ve known someone who has suffered from cancer. As such, BioLegend is proud to be one of the key reagent providers for the Parker Institute’s collaborative efforts in battling cancer. With this exciting and promising news, we wanted to take a closer look at this new institute and shed a little more light on Sean Parker’s latest philanthropic act.
If you’re not familiar with Sean Parker’s history, here’s a quick primer. Much of his wealth is based off of his computer prowess, having co-founded several companies you may be familiar with. He founded Napster with Shawn Fanning, a site that allowed free music file-sharing. Millions of users were on Napster until it was eventually shut down due to heavy opposition from recording labels and various bands. Seeking out a legal music sharing site, Parker would later go on to help fund Spotify with $15 million. In 2004, Parker would see the potential in Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook project. He was brought in as the company’s first president and was highly influential in its interface, photo sharing, and development.
Sean Parker was portrayed by Justin Timberlake (left) in the movie The Social Network (Columbia Pictures).
With all of the resources from his investments, Parker has donated to several programs. In 2015, he contributed $600 million to open the Parker Foundation, which specializes in life sciences, global public health, and civic engagement. In 2012, he took an interest in cancer research, donating $5 million to the Stand Up to Cancer and Cancer Research Institute. Since then, he’s made several other donations, coming in at #5 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s top philanthropists list of 20141. Parker’s latest effort has focused on immunotherapy in the form of a $250 million grant for members of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.
The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy loops in over 40 laboratories and 300 researchers from six cancer centers. This network allows all of the involved parties to share intellectual property, data, and resources in quick fashion. And, members of this institute will work with companies, like BioLegend, to ensure they receive reagents at an optimized price so they have the necessary materials on-hand to complete their work. The participating centers include:
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Stanford University
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • University of Pennsylvania
The focus of these centers will be on immunotherapy, which utilizes antibodies to either stimulate your own immune system or block immune checkpoints. Immune checkpoints are usually receptors triggered on immune cells (like T cells), which cause them to become less active or suppressed. Unfortunately, tumors have learned to take advantage of this and tend to express high levels of the ligands for these corresponding receptors, tuning down the immune response. Immune checkpoint blockade via antibodies is designed to prevent this from occurring in hopes of generating an immune response to decimate the tumor. In 2015, the FDA approved a significant amount of antibodies designed for use in cancer treatments. Currently, there are over 20 antibody-based drugs on the market2. As a quick aside, BioLegend’s GoInVivo™ antibodies are specifically designed to aid in the study of immune checkpoints. And to provide a more complete understanding of cancer research, we also have several directly-conjugated antibodies and LEAF™ and Ultra-LEAF™ antibodies.

Image from the Cancer Research Institute.
What spurred Parker to take such an interest in combating cancer? Parker’s late friend, Laura Ziskin, was a Hollywood producer who worked on the film “Pretty Woman” and others. She founded Stand Up To Cancer, but sadly passed away from cancer in 2011. After her passing, Parker stated, “Losing Laura transformed me.”3
Continued efforts in cancer research are still needed, and Parker hopes his shift in research focus for immunotherapies is a success. In the last four decades, over $150 billion has been spent on cancer research, yet survival rates have not drastically improved. In addition, it’s anticipated that cancer will overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in humans by 20304.
President Obama also recently urged for more cancer research funding and announced $1 billion will go toward this effort in the next two years. This money will aid in vaccines, immunotherapies, cancer detection, and the genetic analysis of tumors. This is part of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force. The matter is personal for Joe Biden as well. He recently lost his son to brain cancer.
Learn more about Vice President Joe Biden’s thoughts on the Parker Institute here.
Defeating cancer is a difficult task with many components to analyze. BioLegend gladly supports Sean Parker and his institute’s research in the hopes that cancer fades from the lives of our loved ones and future generations. If you have any comments on this story, please contact us at tech@biolegend.com.
References:
  1. Sean Parker on Wikipedia
  2. Immunotherapy Approvals in 2015
  3. Sean Parker sets up $250 million cancer immunotherapy collaboration
  4. The Immunotherapy Dream Team
  5. Tech billionaire announces $250 million in cancer immunotherapy funding
Contributed by Ken Lau, PhD.
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