Billionaire philanthropist Sean Parker collated a group that plans to defeat cancer with immunotherapy.
Imagine taking the top baseball players, forming them into a group and funding them to play. That is what Sean Parker did when he collected six of the brightest scientists into a powerhouse that is intent on turning cancer into just another disease. One that could be beaten by the body.
Immunotherapy is the process where the body marshalls its own immune system to defeat foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. Cancer is a tricker foe than ‘regular’ diseases and stomps the immune system. Parker’s team are working on two ways to get around this. Their first idea is to create “armies” of immune cells that would attack cancer. Their second idea would be to “retrain” the troops to circle cancer’s defenses.
Lest this sound simplistic, Parker’s Manhattan Project of six researchers convened a meeting last week where they laid out their actions and direction.
Parker intends to establish the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, a $125 million contribution to Johns Hopkins for immunotherapy by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, other philanthropists, and President Obama’s efforts to accelerate research.
The scientists had already started their immunotherapy treatment on certain patients. Some had recovered, others had resisted or had died. Melanoma and cancers of the lung, brain and other regions react well to the treatment. In other cases, the cancer hides too deeply or genetic or biological factors impede treatment. Scientists from the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy are looking into this.
The researchers speculated that in the future, immunotherapy could rally with traditional therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to beat cancer. They predicted that immunotherapy would squash “primitive” treatments and be the new and advanced solution. Cancer, they suggested, could be treated even before it developed by assessing genetics or other risk factors. Finally, they said, the language of cancer would change. Cancer would no longer be seen as tumor since it would not grow or re-appear. Rather, it would be a sustained disease than a death sentence.
Said Louis Weiner, director of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center: “We are in the midst of a sea change in how we are treating cancer. We’re really seeing the fruits of many years of research into what drives cancer and how it interacts with the immune system to defeat it and survive.”