Scientists in collaboration with tech billionaire Sean Parker’s Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy may have found a way to predict whether melanoma patients will respond to treatments that target the PD-1 (programmed cell death protein) pathway in tumors through a simple blood test, according to a paper in the scientific journal Nature.
The former Facebook president launched the institute with his moniker and persuaded hundreds of top scientists within various research universities across the U.S. to form an alliance to solve cancer using cutting-edge immunotherapy, floating $250 million of his own $3 billion fortune to do so.
While it’s not a cure for the disease, the discovery could be useful for those watching what Parker’s organization comes up with. This is the first major scientific paper to publish work from the Parker Institute and holds promise for the collaborative method designed by the institute to bring researchers and universities together to cure the disease.
Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and Memorial Sloan-Kettering came together for the first time to work on the project and — though the explanation of the discovery is a bit nuanced — they found that levels of the blood biomarker versus mutational load (tumor burden) may predict whether a cancer patient is responsive or not to treatment.
However, the work is part of a larger effort in Silicon Valley and beyond to rid humanity of this horrible affliction. Grail, a biotech company spun out of Illumina, is also working on a long-term research project to detect cancer through blood-testing technology. Alphabet’s life science bet Verily has tried to create a few projects in that vein, as well — including a Star Trek-like Tricorder diagnostic tool to detect cancer early enough in the body to catch it before it spreads.
But Parker is a stand-out figure in tech, putting up the kinds of resources and army strength needed to make progress through mass collaboration. This is the first glint of hope his vision might be working out.