MSK Is Named Founding Member of Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

By Matthew Tontonoz,

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sean Parker

MSK’s leadership in cancer immunotherapy was recognized today when it was named one of six founding centers of the newly created Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, established by tech entrepreneur Sean Parker. The Institute will be geared toward accelerating breakthrough immunotherapy treatments for patients.

  • A $250 million grant from the Parker Foundation has enabled the creation of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.
  • MSK is one of six founding academic medical centers involved in the project.
  • Support from the Parker Institute will allow MSK researchers to pursue bold new projects geared toward rapidly advancing cancer immunotherapy.

Serial tech entrepreneur Sean Parker first made a name for himself in the early 2000s as the brains behind Napster and Facebook. In recent years, Mr. Parker has turned his entrepreneurial zeal — and the considerable wealth he has accumulated as a result — to addressing pressing matters of public health.

Today, the Parker Foundation, of which Mr. Parker is the founder and president, announced the creation of a new venture — the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI), a network of scientists and research centers geared toward unlocking the power of the immune system to fight cancer. The new institute is enabled by a $250 million grant from the Parker Foundation.

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Memorial Sloan Kettering joins with five other leading players in the cancer immunotherapy field as part of PICI — University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Penn Medicine; Stanford Medicine; University of California, Los Angeles; and University of California, San Francisco.  

The Parker Institute at MSK will be directed by Jedd Wolchok, an expert on melanoma and the immunotherapy approach known as checkpoint blockade, and co-directed by Marcel van den Brink, a specialist in blood cancer and bone marrow transplantation.

Immunotherapy represents a fundamentally different way of treating cancer than standard approaches such as chemotherapy and radiation. Rather than targeting the tumor, it instead targets a patient’s immune system, empowering it to seek out and destroy cancer. The result is a more dynamic and potentially more lasting response that is leading to cures in some cases.

“Cancer immunotherapy is the disruptive technology of cancer medicine,” Dr. Wolchok said. “It disrupts the entire paradigm that we’ve used for the last five decades.”

MSK: Where Immunotherapy Began

The choice of Memorial Sloan Kettering as a founding member of the Parker Institute reflects MSK’s rich legacy of leadership in the field. Immunotherapy was born at MSK, more than a century ago, and since that time MSK scientists have led the effort to develop immune-based treatments for cancer. (See timeline of progress.)

MSK investigators have also been at the epicenter of recent work in the field that has led to dramatic breakthroughs and catalyzed renewed interest in immunotherapy.

Dr. Wolchok has played a central role in the clinical development of immune checkpoint inhibitors — drugs that “release the brakes” on the immune system, allowing it to mount a stronger attack against cancer. Clinical trials that he spearheaded led to the FDA approval of the first checkpoint inhibitor drug, ipilimumab, for advanced melanoma in 2011.

Dr. van den Brink has pioneered new techniques for immune reconstitution following stem cell transplants, including manipulating the microbiota — the colony of microbes that live in our gut.

The team of Michel Sadelain, Renier Brentjens, and Isabelle Rivière has pioneered chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, an approach that is leading to dramatic cures in some patients with leukemia.

And MSK immunologist Alexander (Sasha) Rudensky has deepened our understanding of how the immune system is kept in check by regulatory T cells, opening up promising new targets for cancer immunotherapies.

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New Trial Launched

The support offered through the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will allow MSK researchers to build on their leadership as they search for new ways to extend the benefits of immunotherapy to even more patients.

The first clinical trial funded by this initiative has opened and will be led by MSK researchers. It will answer the crucial question of whether melanoma patients whose cancer has not responded to a PD-1 immunotherapy (or has worsened while on this treatment) can respond to ipilimumab or the combination of ipilimumab plus nivolumab.

Cancer immunotherapy is the disruptive technology of cancer medicine.
Jedd D. Wolchok
Jedd D. Wolchok Director, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

Dr. van den Brink thinks MSK’s participation in PICI will be a boon to both MSK and the field as a whole. “What I personally hope is that with PICI we can mobilize the various efforts that have been going on at a smaller scale at MSK,” he said. “There are so many things that we’re doing that will now get the attention and funding to help them develop into viable therapies.”

He added: “I think what we’re going to see in five years is that immunotherapy is going to be used for many more cancers. And the Parker Institute is poised to lead that important effort.”

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Seems like the only cancers being treated are non tumor of shift tumor blood, lungs, etc.) What is the status of treating "hard" tumors like postrate and breast cancer?

Patrick, MSK is exploring immunotherapy for a variety of cancers, including solid tumors such as breast, lung, and kidney cancers. To learn more about our efforts in this area, you can go to: Thank you for your comment.

God Bless...

My mom just became a patient of MSK. Is there any work being done in Glioblastoma?

Dear RosaAnna, we are sorry to hear about your mother's diagnosis. Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of brain cancer that can spread through brain tissue and can be difficult to remove with surgery. In recent years, doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering and elsewhere have begun to recognize distinct molecular subtypes of glioblastomas, which may in turn enable us to find new and targeted treatment approaches. We are investigating a number of new treatments, including immunotherapy, for people with this type of cancer. To learn more about our approach to treating people with glioblastoma, please visit We wish your mother well with her treatment at MSK.

What experience do you have treating appendix cancer with immunotherapy?

Dear Bill, appendix cancer is typically treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. Learn more about treatment for people with appendix cancer at

We have a number of clinical trials investigating immunotherapy for people various types of solid tumors. You may browse through them here:…

If you have any questions about your eligibility for any of these trials or would like to make an appointment, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225. Thank you for reaching out to us.

It is a wonderful to know about the creation of Parker Institute for Immunotherapy at MSK. I am sure it will be a success story in advancing the field under the proven leadership of Dr. Wolchok. Great things to come, I am sure.

Thank you for your kind words, Mohan!

When I look around Ovarian Cancer seems less funded cancer. Breast cancer gets all these funds for research. I assume since Ovarian cancer is rarer than other cancers because the numbers aren't there it is not big priority. Do you have any Immunothreapy T cell trials for ovarian cancer

Phyllis, MSK does currently have a trial looking at T cell therapy for ovarian cancer. We have a number of additional trials as well, including others that are evaluating immunotherapy. If you'd like to see a complete list of our trials for ovarian cancer, you can go to If you're interested in making an appointment for a consultation, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information. Thank you for your comment.

In june 2008 I passed an operration due to Peritoneal Mesotheliomaed and a heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy.
In august 2008 I made one course of systemic chemotherapy with alimpta and cisplatin.
Ten days after I developped the Guilliain Barre Syndrom. Chemotherapy was immediately stopeed and I started a long recovery program of more than one year. Till february 2013 I made controls (blood tests, markers and CT-PET) - each 6 months. In february 2013 the CT-PET shows reoccurence of Peritoneal Mesothelioma. Because the tumors were stable and not spread, I continued to make controls, each 3-4 months. But in January 4, 2016, the CT-PET shows many tumors on peritoneum and along the intestins. Prof. J. Klausner, head of Surgical Division of Ichilov - Tel Aviv Medical Center consulted me and recommended an operation again, like in 2008. I passed this operation on january 22, 2016 and after 11 days of hospitalization, I went home and I feel good.
The oncologist doctor recommended me a systemic chemotherapy with Alimpta only, because the risk to make again Guilliain Barre Syndrom. I would like to know if my peritoneal mesothelioma which already exist and doesn't make me any problem, can be treated in your hospital, without chemotherapy.
Thanks a lot for your response,
Zorel Zisman

Zorel, we are not able to answer individual medical questions on our blog. If you'd like to arrange for a consultation at MSK to discuss your options, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information on making an appointment. If you currently live in Israel, you can instead contact our International Center at or to go for more information. Thank you for your comment.

This is the best hospital in the nation, hands-down. You are always aware of new treatments and progressive on your approach. I look forward to hearing more about the immunotherapy treatments!

I read somewhere that patients who have other autoimmune diseases should not receive immunotherapy and I was just wondering if that is true?

Dear Nicole,
The safety of immunotherapy for cancer in patients with autoimmunity is uncertain. There is a theoretical concern that patients with certain autoimmune diseases may experience worsening of their autoimmune condition when given immunotherapy for cancer. For that reason, many clinical trials of experimental immunotherapies exclude patients with underlying autoimmune diseases. However, for drugs that are FDA approved, patients with autoimmune conditions may be eligible to receive immunotherapy for cancer and may benefit from it. For a patient with an autoimmune condition who also has cancer, the best thing for him or her to do is talk with a doctor about the risks and benefits of immunotherapy treatment. Thank you for your comment.

What about kidney or pancreas cancers? Can this help?

Dear Anise, we are actively investigating the use of immunotherapy in people with kidney cancer and pancreatic cancer. You may browse through our clinical trials for people with kidney cancer here: Clinical trials for people with pancreatic cancer can be found here:

If you would like to make an appointment with one of our specialists, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225. Thank you for reaching out to us.

Is MSK performing immunotherapy on colon cancer patients that were not effected due to their genes? If yes do you offer vaccine to prevent recurrence?

Anna, MSK does have several clinical trials in progress evaluating a variety of different immunotherapy treatments for colorectal cancer. However, these do not include vaccines. If you'd like to learn more, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information on making an appointment. Thank you for your comment.

Are you using immunotherapy for multiple myeloma successfully?

Dear Sharon, we are currently investigating immunotherapy and other novel treatments in clinical trials for people with multiple myeloma. To browse through our open trials for people with this type of cancer, please visit If you have questions about any of these studies or would like to make an appointment, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225. Thank you for reaching out to us.

Since the FDA approved the drug Atezolizumab for bladder cancer on 5/18/16, has MSKCC started treating their related patients with this therapy?

Are the treated patients only associated with clinical trials or has the drugs actually been brought in for in-house treatments? I thought Sloan was still awaiting board of director approval prior to in-house non-clinical treatment?

Rich, yes the drug is now available at MSK for appropriate bladder cancer patients even outside of clinical trials.

Thank you for your question.

like your sharing, keep updating.

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