Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker is a billionaire. He also is vulnerable to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. Now he’s gone and done something about it: a $24 million pledge to establish a new research center at the Stanford University School of Medicine. It will be the first center of its kind in the world.
Parker himself is no stranger to philanthropy, but this is his biggest gift yet and signals a potential new phase of giving for a techie whose net worth has soared to $3 billion thanks to the increasing value of Facebook stock.
Nearly a year ago, we wrote about Parker's interest in cancer immunotherapy work, and a $1 million gift he made to the Cancer Research Institute. His big new gift for allergy research may seem to suggest he's striking out in a new direction, but actually the gift also aims to advance understanding of the immune system.
Giving for allergy research is a relative newcomer to the health philanthropy scene, and has been driven by the personal experiences of America’s growing upper-upper crust, including millionaire moms whose kids might die by touching a birthday cake and tycoon dads who worry that their heirs could be felled by peanut powder.
It’s scary stuff, and though the giving itself could be called trendy, Parker is one of several notable philanthropists who believes there's exciting potential for breakthroughs here. (David Koch and his wife Julia gave $10 million in 2012 to the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. Koch's son has food allergies.)
About one in three Americans suffers from some form of allergy, and one in 12 American children and one in 50 adults are affected by food allergies. Within that food-allergic population, a full quarter can expect to experience a near-fatal anaphylactic reaction. “We need to make catalytic changes in the field of allergy research by studying immune mechanisms in order to apply discoveries in real time to new, safer and more durable therapies for adults and children,” says Parker. “I’m excited to partner with Stanford and believe that under the leadership of Dr. Nadeau, the Center will make a transformational impact on how we understand and treat allergies.”
That would be Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, an internationally renowned immunology researcher working at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and the School of Medicine, and the person who will lead the new center.
Her work will focus specifically on understanding the mechanisms of the immune system, which means the work could lead to breakthroughs in other immune-related disorders such as asthma, Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, and others. “I am thrilled and honored to direct the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford University,” said Nadeau. “Sean is well-versed in immunology, and has been a fantastic partner to work with. He’s an entrepreneur and visionary, and we look forward to using this gift and center as the springboard to improve the lives of those adults and children with allergies through immunotherapy that goes beyond oral therapy.”