During the 2016 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced that Vice President Biden would lead a $1 billion nationwide “moonshot” initiative that aims to advance a decade’s worth of cancer research in five years, increasing the availability of therapies to patients and improving cancer prevention and early detection strategies.
This morning, three months after Obama’s pledge, billionaire Sean Parker, founder of the infamous music file-sharing service Napster and first president of Facebook, announced a moonshot initiative of his own: a $250 million donation to cancer immunotherapy research for several hospitals, including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
According to Parker, his decision to donate is based on the fact that immunotherapy has reached a crucial point and needs additional research that won’t be held back by lack of funding.
Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that leverages the body’s own immune system to fight and kill cancer cells. The therapy is designed to either stimulate parts of the body’s immune system, or use man-made immune system proteins that target cancer cells specifically. Types of cancer immunotherapy include monoclonal antibodies, immune checkpoint inhibitors, cancer vaccines, and other, non-specific immunotherapies. Recent advancements have proven successful in the treatment of a number of types of cancer. For patients diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is currently an option only used in clinical trials.
Immunotherapy has become more well-known because of its association with former president Jimmy Carter, whose melanoma has been treated with the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab), which is FDA approved for the treatment of advanced melanoma. Carter announced in December of last year that his cancer was in remission. Around the same time, the FDA approved Keytruda for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer.
These approvals expand Keytruda and similar drugs’ availability for study and treatment in other cancers, like mesothelioma. A recent study, for example, showed that Keytruda has great promise in significantly improving prognosis for mesothelioma patients.
Sean Parker’s donation is the largest contribution ever made toward cancer immunotherapy, and one of the largest donations ever made for cancer research. Given the promise certain types of immunotherapy has shown in early clinical trials, this newfound funding has the potential to significantly impact the options available for mesothelioma patients, bringing us closer to more effective and successful treatment.