Napster Founder Hopes Funds Will Find Cure for Food Allergies

The entrepreneur who founded Napster and secured Facebook some of its first venture capital money has donated $24 million to fund an allergy research center at Stanford University.

The entrepreneur who founded Napster and secured Facebook some of its first venture capital money has donated $24 million to fund an allergy research center at Stanford University.

Sean Parker has spent decades battling severe food allergies that have sent him to the hospital dozens of times. Now, he hopes his gift will produce a treatment that’s better than current immunotherapy techniques — a treatment that will eliminate allergies after just 1 or 2 doses — within the next 5 to 10 years.

Kari Nadeau, an associate professor of allergies and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, will lead the new Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research. Nadeau has already helped to develop a therapy that has been shown to desensitize people to up to 5 different food allergies at once.

The technique has reportedly cured 680 of 700 patients who have tried it so far.

Nadeau says she will begin new clinical trials shortly after she assumes her new position, and Parker plans to be among the first people to participate in those studies.

Parker says he is seriously allergic to peanuts, certain legumes, tree nuts and shellfish — allergic enough that he spent 3 weeks in the intensive care unit during his senior year of high school and has suffered anaphylaxis several times since then.

Indeed, Parker believes that he’s been to the emergency room on 14 separate occasions during the past 4 years, simply because he touched someone or something that had come into contact with a relevant allergen. He carries an epinephrine auto-injector, of course, and has used it upon himself, but many of his attacks have continued after initial treatment.

Parker’s donation pales in comparison to the $4 billion annual budget of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, but most of that budget goes to study infectious diseases rather than allergies.

Officials from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and the World Allergy Organization have both said that Parker’s $24 million could underwrite a substantial amount of work, particularly given that the new research center will occupy existing space at Stanford rather than building from scratch.

Tonya Winders, the president of the Allergy and Asthma Network, believes that Parker’s gift is the largest private donation that has ever gone to allergy research, and she hopes that it will provide substantial benefits for the estimated 60 million Americans who suffer some sort of allergy.

Parker expects very substantial benefits indeed. He predicts that the work funded by his money has a realistic chance of producing a cure for allergies within the decade.

“It’s the same process I’d use to invest in a startup. You have to have the right team in the right place at the right time. I’m just taking the [venture capital] process and applying it to clinical research,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch, a website devoted to the business of technology. “The precise immunological process by which desensitization occurs is not well understood. With this research, we can open the black box.”

Parker’s gift is not his first big donation to medical efforts. He has already given $20 million to cancer research and raised funds for the charity Malaria No More.