Silicon Valley entrepreneur and philanthropist Sean Parker has gifted $24 million over the next two years to establish the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford University, the university announced on Wednesday, Dec. 17.
Parker cofounded the file-sharing computer service Napster and was the first president of Facebook. He also cofounded Plaxo, Causes, and Airtime. The gift is one of the largest private donations to allergy research in the United States to date, university officials said.
The first of its kind in the world, the center will seek better treatments for children and adults with allergies and aims to develop a lasting cure. The Center will be led by Dr. Kari Nadeau, an internationally renowned immunology researcher at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the School of Medicine.
Allergies, whether they are to food, drugs, the environment, or other triggers, have potentially adverse consequences for millions of people worldwide. Recent estimates conclude that between 30 and 40 percent of the global population suffers from one or more allergic conditions. About one in three Americans suffers from some form of allergy.
Doctor-diagnosed food allergies affect 1 in 12 American children under the age of 21 and 1 in about 50 adults, according to Stanford. Of individuals with a food allergy, approximately 25 percent will have a near-fatal anaphylactic reaction at some point in their lives. An estimated $25 billion is spent each year on reactive food allergy care.
Parker said his firsthand experience with life-threatening allergies led him to found the center. Researchers will focus on understanding immune-system-mechanism dysfunctions that result in allergic reactions. The research could lead to new, safer and more lasting therapies for adults and children.
"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," Parker said in a statement.
The center will include Stanford specialists in diverse fields such as immunology, gastroenterology, otolaryngology, chemistry, bioengineering, pathology, pulmonology, and genetics. The team will conduct laboratory and computational research, clinical trials, community outreach and other efforts. The research at the center could have implications for a wide array of immune dysfunctions including asthma, eczema, food allergies, eosinophilic disorders, drug allergies and gastroenterological diseases.
"We are excited about the center because there is enormous clinical need for better understanding of and treatment for allergies," said Dr. Lloyd Minor, dean of Stanford University School of Medicine. "For instance, the recent profound increase in the incidence of serious food allergy is fascinating and deeply concerning at the same time. Sean Parker's generous gift will enable Stanford Medicine experts, under Dr. Nadeau's leadership, to collaborate and innovate across academic disciplines for the benefit of millions of people with allergies."
Nadeau, an associate professor of pediatrics at the medical school and immunologist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and Stanford Health Care, said she is honored to direct the center.
"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," she said.
Nadeau's accomplishments include developing the first combination, multi-food-allergy therapy that has been shown to safely desensitize food-allergic patients to up to five different allergens at the same time. During immunotherapy trials conducted at Lucile Packard, patients ingest small amounts of the allergen to build tolerance over time. The treatment has had positive outcomes for a number of adult and pediatric patients, but it is a lengthy process that can be dangerous and anxiety-provoking. One of the Center's priorities is to move beyond oral immunotherapy and identify a better and more lasting cure for allergies.
Of the $24 million total, $4 million will be used to establish a dollar-for-dollar challenge match for all other new gifts to the center. For more information on the center and grant, visit foodallergies.stanford.edu.