Medical science is on a constant quest to understand cancer, and ultimately destroy it. Certainly, there have been some incredible advances in the last decade or so. We are now able to use nanosized “Trojan horses” to erode leukemia cells from within. We can get certain types of cancerous cells to turn on and kill each other. We can even use microscopic backpacks made of algae to deliver targeted chemotherapy treatment to tumors.
However, all this requires constant funding, constant scientific dedication, and the right kind of equipment. Venture capitalist Sean Parker, known by most as the founder of Napster and a co-founder of Facebook, clearly recognizes this: According to the Washington Post, he is backing a $250 million effort drive to attract hundreds of scientists, many of which are often in direct competition with each other, to join forces and focus their efforts on killing cancer.
These proverbial Avengers of the scientific world already number as many as 300, working at 40 laboratories in six world-class institutions: Stanford, the University of California (Los Angeles and California campuses), the University of Pennsylvania, the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. This hero’s roster is particularly impressive considering the plan was formally announced just this week.
The initiative is designed to focus on immunotherapy. Unlike chemotherapy methods designed to use drugs or instrumentation to physically destroy tumorous tissue, this relatively new scientific field hopes to kick-start the body’s own immune system to take up arms against cancer cells.
“Cancer immunotherapy is such an incredibly complex field, and for every answer it seems to pose 10 more questions,” said Parker, as reported by the Washington Post. “I’m an entrepreneur so I wish some of these questions had been answered yesterday.”
Cancer kills millions of people every single year, so scientists are trying every possible method to reduce these numbers. Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock
Parker sees this new agglomeration of scientists fighting cancer as a way to remove the bureaucracy and red tape present in so many institutions. Although the researchers will spend most of their time at their own institutions, they will have access to every piece of data, equipment and funding being provided by the nonprofit Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, based in San Francisco.
To oversee the scientific progress of the initiative, one member from each university will sit on a committee and deliberate what the best course of action is. Every piece of new research that the initiative produces will be able to be provided and even licensed to interested industries, but the intellectual property will remain with the original scientists.
The institute will be headed by Jeff Bluestone, the former provost of the University of California, San Francisco, and an immunologist. In addition, he is one of 28 members of a panel personally selected by U.S. Vice President Biden as part of his National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, a $1 billion drive to accelerate cancer research.
Biden’s drive and Parker’s are similar: apart from wanting to help the human race on a purely altruistic basis, they’ve both had people close to them die as a result of cancer. Only time will tell if this massive collaboration will produce results after than individual institutions, but it’s certainly got everything going for it.