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April 13, 2016

Penn joins Sean Parker in historic launch of cancer immunotherapy institute

$250 million gift from tech titan to support collaborative research initiative

Cancer UPenn
041316_PennPerelmanMedicine Ajaxean/Creative Commons

Quad containing medical and research buildings of the Perelman School of Medicine and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The University of Pennsylvania announced Wednesday that it will be one of six top-tier U.S. medical schools to join an unprecedented cancer research initiative led by Facebook founding president and Napster creator Sean Parker.

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, backed by a $250 million gift from the Parker Foundation, will coordinate research efforts among more than 40 labs and 300 scientists to accelerate breakthroughs in immune-based treatments that strengthen the body's attack against cancer cells. Penn researchers will join peers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Stanford Medicine, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“We are tremendously excited to join this collaboration, which will allow us to investigate promising new immunotherapy avenues for the treatment of cancer outside of our institutional silos in very unique ways,” said the Parker Institute’s Penn director, Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine and director of Translational Research in the Abramson Cancer Center.“Working together will enable us to make quicker progress as we work to translate our laboratory findings into clinical trials.”

Parker's gift represents the largest of its kind for cancer immunotherapy and comes on the heels of President Obama's $1 billion federally funded "moonshot" cancer research program.

As part of the collaboration, all participating medical institutions will share intellectual property in order to build out a base of knowledge led by core discoveries.

“We are at an inflection point in cancer research and now is the time to maximize immunotherapy’s unique potential to transform all cancers into manageable diseases, saving millions of lives,” said Parker, who launched the Parker Foundation last June with a $600 million gift to spur innovation in the Life Sciences, Global Public Health and Civic Engagement. “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.”

The University of Pennsylvania has been awarded initial funding of $10 to $15 million to establish a Parker Institute in Philadelphia. Annually, the investment will grow to support laboratory studies, clinical trials, talent recruitment, and early-career research investigations. The university currently has 1,100 clinical trials underway for cancer treatment, including 80 immunotherapy studies.

Early projects at Penn will focus on both basic science and clinic research areas, such as enhancements to the promising field of T cell therapy and cancer prevention vaccines.

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