Sean Parker

Image via Flickr/JD Lasica

The first proposed human test for CRISPR, in the form of a therapeutic gene-editing for treating leukaemia, goes up before the NIH’s Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee today (June 21). Disclosed in an FDA blog post last week, the therapy developed by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania could become the first clinical trial for the technology, beating out commercial favourites Editas Medicine. Yesterday, MIT Technology Review reported that the funding for this trial comes from none other than technology billionaire Sean Parker.

Parker, whose net-worth is estimated at $2.4 billion, is best known for co-creater of the internet piracy site Napster and for being the first president of Facebook. Although many may know him better for being portrayed by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. In April this year Parker announced a “Manhattan project for curing cancer with the immune system”, donating $250 million in funding to six centres including UPenn. The university has confirmed that his donation will be used to fund the proposed trial, should it get the AOK from the NIH. 

Parker’s interest in cancer reflects a growing trend in internet entrepreneurs leaping into the world of biotech, taking on biology as if it were computer code. Google Verily is adopting a similar approach (not always successfully) for their flagship projects including Tricorder and the glucose-sensing contact lens, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin has contributed some $50 million to research into Parkinson’s disease, favouring a computational ‘big data’ approach to the problem. 

More on these topics