A group of powerhouse scientists have been recruited to innovate new cancer treatments.
In describing just how much of a powerhouse the group of six scientists leading Sean Parker’s new $250 million cancer effort represents, Otis Brawley has to resort to a sports analogy. The chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society told Wired magazine: “He went to some major football teams, took the best players off the team, and said, ‘I’m going to give you money to do what you do best.’”
It’s hard to overstate the hopes that are being pinned on this group. Under the new model — to which Stanford University, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and other major institutions agreed — nearly 300 researchers specializing in the white-hot field of cancer immunology across the country will be following the lead of this central steering committee in determining the direction of their research.
The five men and one woman were each personally recruited by Parker, the billionaire philanthropist who is known for his founding roles at Napster and Facebook and who has a long history of disrupting established industries. At a launch event Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said only half-jokingly, “Who would have ever thought cancer would be cured by Napster?”
Immunotherapy is based on the promise of being able to use a body’s own immune system to attack cancer in the way it responds to other foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. The challenge has been that cancer is a trickier foe than others and has ways of putting the brakes on our immune system. Researchers are working on two different ways to get around this issue. One involves supercharging your immune cells to create “armies” that can attack cancer. The other involves what are known as “immune checkpoint blockade inhibitors,” which Parker describes as “retraining” the “troops” to be able to get around cancer’s defenses.