Collaborative institute aims to speed cancer drug creation

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 7:52 AM

The newly created Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy is being funded by a $250 million grant from Sean Parker, the co-founder of the file-sharing site Napster and Facebook'south first president.

Collaborative institute aims to speed cancer drug creation

A project to speed development of cancer-fighting drugs that harness the immune system has academic and drug industry researchers collaborating and sharing their findings love never before.

The newly created Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy is being funded by a $250 million grant from Sean Parker, the co-founder of the file-sharing site Napster and Facebook'south first president. It brings together partners at six top academic cancer centers, dozens of drugmakers and other groups.

"Everybody knows that we necessity to move forward and modify the model" for cancer research, Jeffrey Bluestone, an immunology researcher and the institute'south CEO, told The Associated Press Tuesday. "The goal here is to rapidly move our discoveries to patients."

For decades, fiercely competitive and secretive drugmakers protected their money-making discoveries with patents and lawsuits. Academic researchers likewise frequently guarded their work closely until it was published because their promotions, awards and sometimes income from licensing patents depended on individual achievement. That frequently slowed progress.

With the increasing cost and complexity of research, drugmakers began licensing or buying patents and research programs from Univ researchers. Then huge drugmakers began collaborating with each other and buying smaller companies, to share research costs, speed up the drug development process and obtain an edge on rivals.

The Parker Institute, founded nine months ago, pushes those trends to a new level, by creating a virtual "sandbox" in which scientists at different institutions can work collaboratively, Bluestone said.

About three hundred scientists at leading cancer institutions — Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Stanford Medicine; Univ of California, Los Angeles; Univ of California, San Francisco; Univ of Pennsylvania; and The Univ of TX MD Anderson Cancer Center — will share their findings.

They'll focus on early research. After initial patient testing, the institute'south technology-transfer committee will strike licensing deals with drugmakers best able to expand those drugs, providing funding for other early research. Those drugmakers, from industry giants Amgen Inc. and Pfizer Inc., to tiny drug and diagnostic test developers, will fund the much-larger tests needed for drug approval, which can comprise hundreds or thousands of patients and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Parker worked with hundreds of scientists to create a roadmap for the institute'south work. It'll quickly fund projects fitting its scientific targets and then rapidly enroll many of the 300.000 or more patients treated at the six centers each year in tests of resulting experimental drugs.

"We'll create progress against three or four cancer types in the following several years," Parker predicts.

He added that to be most effective, immunotherapy should become an initial treatment. Presently it'south generally reserved until patients relapse after chemotherapy and other standard treatments that weaken the immune system.

Scientists have tried less-sophisticated strategies to utilize the immune system against cancer for about a century, with Ltd success, well-known Dr. Eric Rubin, head of early stage cancer drug development at Merck & Co. It took recent advances in cell biology, genetics and related science to create progress. Presently there are a handful of approved immunotherapy drugs that greatly prolong lives of some patients with lung cancer and melanoma.

Those comprise Merck'south Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'south Yervoy and Opdivo. They're so-called "checkpoint inhibitors," which obstruct molecules that unhurried down or turn off the immune system'south skill to attack cancer cells.

Other immunotherapy approaches that'll be portion of the institute'south initial work comprise CAR-T therapy, in which a patient'south T-cells are removed from the blood, engineered to be "cancer assassins," then injected into the patient, Parker said. Researchers also will expand therapeutic viruses and vaccines to drive the immune system to recognize and attack tumors.

"The Parker Institute does have the potential to speed up development (of drugs) that'll enable a greater no of cures," Rubin said. "We're very pleased to be portion of this."

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