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Sean Parker is giving $250 million to fight cancer with new immunotherapy institute

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Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Sean Parker, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur best known for co-founding file-sharing service Napster, is launching an immunotherapy institute with a $250 million gift from his philanthropic foundation. The new initiative, called the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, is aimed at developing cures for cancer. Six US medical universities and research centers — for a total of 40 labs and more than 300 researchers — are participating.

The institutions include Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Stanford Medicine; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; and University of Pennsylvania. Each school will receive funding, as well as access to research and technology. The group will also share intellectual property to ensure everyone has equal access to any discoveries.

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will share intellectual property

"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," Parker said in a statement. "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."

Today's announcement springs from investments Parker has made with cancer researcher Carl June, an immunotherapist at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2011, two of three patients June treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a blood cancer, experienced remission, according to papers in the New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine. It was the first time anyone had demonstrated the immune system could be trained to hunt and kill cancer. Since then, he's tested the method in other blood cancers as well. June will be the director for the Parker Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. "We are tremendously excited to join this collaboration," June said in a statement.  "Working together will enable us to make quicker progress as we work to translate our laboratory findings into clinical trials."

"Working together will enable us to make quicker progress"

The Parker Institute was founded in 2015 with $600 million from Parker, who accumulated much of his wealth as an early investor in Facebook. (He was also the company's first president.) Between Facebook’s initial public offering and other investments (including with Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund), Parker is now worth an estimated $3 billion.

Although he still has active roles with tech companies, including Spotify, Parker has turned his eye toward philanthropy. He's donated his personal fortune into cancer research as far back as 2005. In an essay for The Wall Street Journal last year, Parker laid out his vision for how technologists could use their "hacker" mindset and enormous net worths to tackle world-changing problems. "Hacker philanthropists have to recognize that their successes will be few and infrequent and that their rewards will be fleeting, personal and often unrecognized," he wrote. "They will need to ground themselves in a genuine commitment to serve others and draw from a deeply felt sense of purpose."