Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) president and the founder of file sharing company Napster, Sean Parker, has received the green light to go ahead with a planned clinical trial testing the CRISPR/Cas9 effect on cancer. Although other approvals are still pending to launch the trial, Parker appears headed to be the first to trial CRISPR/Cas9 in humans.
A panel of the National Institute of Health (NIH) this week unanimously cleared the way for Parker to run the clinical test for the candidate. CRISPR is a technology used to modify DNA and can be used to edit the genes of the immune system’s T cells to increase their capability in fighting cancer cells.
The focus of the Parker-backed trial will be to edit the genes of T cells in about 15 cancer patients. The target is to see if the the modified cells are able to attack melanoma, myeloma and sarcoma cancers.
Parker’s growing interest in life sciences
Over the past year, Parker has appeared to double down on his support for cancer research programs. Last year, the first president of Facebook funneled $600 million to launch the Parker Foundation, which is focused on life sciences. Again in April of this year, he contributed $250 million to go into setting up six additional cancer centers across the nation. The idea was to support immuno-oncology research to increase cancer survival rates.
As Parker opens his wallet for life sciences programs, it is not yet clear at this juncture who would control the intellectual property resulting from the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing study.
The other pending issue is FDA approval for the study to launch, which is still pending.
Tech companies showing interest in biology
Facebook’s Parker isn’t the only tech-oriented investor who is showing growing interest in life sciences. Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has formed a life sciences branch called Calico, which is more focused on developing medicines to combat aging and its effects in humans. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) also recently said that it sees its Apple Watch device being a health accessory. The company’s CEO, Tim Cook, talked about Apple Watch being the device that will alert wearers if something has gone wrong in their bodies so that they can seek medical attention quickly.