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Financial Support is Important – Collaboration is Invaluable

April 20, 2016

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Since as far back as the early 1900s, researchers have been looking for ways to take advantage of the body’s existing superb defense system – the immune system – to treat and defeat cancer. However, despite more than 100 years passing, cancer immunotherapy is still a very new field. Only 200,000 of the 14 million Americans with a history of cancer have tried immunotherapies and there are only a few FDA-approved treatments on the market. In an effort to spur immunotherapy research momentum, Sean Parker, serial entrepreneur, first president of Facebook, and co-founder of Napster, has gifted $250M to the cause, with the hope of turning cancer into something we treat more as a chronic illness and less as a death sentence. Parker’s announcement included not only a pledge of financial support, but also outlined how the money will be used, including to develop an institute through which hundreds of scientists and 40 institutions will collaborate.

What is really interesting about Parker’s donation is his prescription of collaboration. Often, medical research is conducted in silos, at discrete sites by researchers who may or may not communicate. By encouraging group work and shared ideas, Parker is speeding up efforts and creating new efficiencies. While the financial component is of utmost importance, it is clear that finances alone are not enough to gain the momentum that is needed. By bringing industry leaders together, Parker hopes to accelerate the discovery trajectory.

Understanding the concept of immunotherapy lies in the idea of using our own innate systems as opposed to external medications to fight cancer. The following infographic, put together by the global not-for-profit Cancer Research Institute, illustrates just how powerful the technique could be. We at iSpecimen are seeing even more requests from scientists conducting immunotherapy research, further validating that the field holds promise and is gaining momentum. In particular, we are seeing requests for samples from patients who’ve been treated with immune system checkpoint inhibitors and recently shared the details of one such order we fulfilled. As so few patients have been treated with these therapies, the samples were difficult to find, but incredibly valuable for scientists looking to learn more about how patients respond to immunotherapy.

With Sean Parker’s recent contribution to cancer research, along with Joe Biden’s recent “Cancer Moonshot” initiative announcement, it seems we could be in what one day might be called a “golden age” of cancer research. Here’s to hoping that the combination of generous donations and thoughtful collaboration will spur the breakthroughs that we need to bring more immunotherapy treatments to market.