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Parker Foundation Launches $250M Collaborative Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

This article has been updated with information from a press conference. 

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Parker Foundation announced today that it has founded the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy with a $250 million grant, to bring together six cancer centers that will collaborate to develop immune therapies.

The institute will draw on over 40 laboratories and 300 researchers from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Stanford University; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Pennsylvania. Each center will receive $10 million to $15 million in initial funding to set up a Parker Institute on site, with additional funding coming through specific project grants, shared resources, and central funding.

"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," Sean Parker, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who co-founded Napster and who is president of the Parker Foundation, said in a statement.

According to a spokesperson, the institute will invest extensively in resources and technology related to "immune monitoring, genomics and sequencing, bioinformatics, and IP development and licensing.

Parker added that the creation of a new funding and research model would "overcome many of the obstacles that prevent research breakthroughs." Intellectual property will be shared and a scientific steering committee will set the research agenda.  

Aside from collaboration between research institutes, the institute has also secured 30 industry partners that will provide access to research tools and reagents as well as drugs and clinical trials.

During a webcast press conference, Adam Kolom, managing director of the Cancer Research Institute Venture Fund, described one such collaborative, genomics-focused project in which researchers are teaming up with Merck on a clinical trial for anti-PD1 inhibitor therapy in order to understand why some patients respond and other do not. As part of that trial, researchers will have access to instruments being developed by Fluidigm and Becton Dickinson Biosciences for cell and tissue analysis. In addition, researchers will collect blood samples from patients that they will send to Illumina's spinout Grail, which will sequence those samples "to look for a genetic signature in blood that might one day be used to catch and diagnose cancers earlier and with greater accuracy," Kolom said.

In general, the initial research projects will fall under three major areas, added UCSF professor Jeffrey Bluestone, who will serve as overall CEO and president of the Parker Institute. The first will be on research that looks to harness patients' T cells to design cell-based therapies based on genetically modifying those T cells to better fight cancer. A second team will "delve deeply into the field of precision medicine" to determine why some patients respond to current immunotherapy drugs and other do not and why some patients relapse, with the goal of identifying new ways to harness the immune system and new combinations of immunotherapy drugs. Finally, a third team comprised of around 20 researchers in collaboration with technology companies will focus on tumor antigen discovery and developing cancer vaccines. Bluestone said he envisions a cancer vaccine being developed "for one or more tumor types in the next 10 years" that could "protect individuals from developing cancer."

In addition, the institute has also set up a centralized intellectual property model. One representative from each of the six cancer centers' technology transfer offices and the Parker Institute IP team will form one centralized group to manage the patent and licensing decisions of the institute, Kollom said. 

And in addition to Bluestone serving as a central leader, each of the six centers will have its own onsite director: Jim Allison for the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Jedd Wolchok at Memorial Sloan Kettering; Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania; Crystal Mackall at Stanford; Antoni Ribas at UCLA; and Lewis Lanier at UCSF.

Parker and Bluestone — along with the Broad Institute's Eric Lander, Margaret Hamburg of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, and Laurie Glimcher of Weill Cornell Medical College — will serve on the institute's board of directors. 

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