Immunotherapy Experts at 6 Universities Partner in $250M Research Effort by Parker Foundation

The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center announced it has entered into an alliance with other five other cancer centers across the U.S. to accelerate and expand immunotherapies for cancer treatment. The project, called the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, was funded by a $250 million grant from The Parker Foundation, the largest single contribution to date made to the field of immunotherapy.

Joining MD Anderson are Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Stanford Medicine; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Pennsylvania. In total, the project will coordinate the efforts of 40 laboratories and more than 300 researchers, working to develop new therapies and translate them quickly into potential treatments.

“By bringing institutions with different strengths and expertise together, providing stable funding and access to truly cutting-edge technologies, the Parker Institute empowers us to make big strides in cancer immunotherapy,” Jim Allison, PhD, chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson, said in a press release.

Each center is receiving $10 million to $15 million to establish a Parker Institute on its site, with continued annual investments to come through project grants, shared resources, and central funding.

“The Parker Institute has chosen three areas of concentration to address issues in these immunotherapies so we can extend them to more patients,” Dr. Allison said. These priorities, according to the release, are:

  • Developing novel approaches to modify T cells to enhance their function and then develop a new generation of more effective T cell therapies;
  • Comparing patients who respond to checkpoint inhibitors, those who don’t respond and those who relapse, to improve rates of durable responses and broaden the use of these drugs alone or in combination;
  •  Conducting DNA sequencing, immune monitoring and antigen discovery to identify new targets for therapeutic vaccines and T cell therapies.

The administration of intellectual property will be shared among the centers, enabling all researchers access to 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 Sean Parker, president of The Parker Foundation, and a former president of the social media site, Facebook. “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.”

At MD Anderson, the project will start with five full-time researchers and grow from there, Dr. Allison said. He is inventor of a therapeutic approach called immune checkpoint blockade, which involves treating the immune system so that it can attack cancer rather than treating the tumors directly.

“We have only scratched the surface of the potential of cancer immunotherapy to save lives,” said Ronald A. DePinho, president of MD Anderson. “We’re proud to participate in this innovative and collaborative effort to advance the field.”

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