Sean Parker, the co-founder of the online music service Napster and the first president of Facebook, has pledged $24 million toward a campaign to develop a cure for allergies.
Parker, 35, has been hospitalized repeatedly because of allergies to foods including peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish. These experiences led to his interest in new treatments, the chairman of San Francisco-based Brigade Media said during a conference call with reporters Monday.
"I understand firsthand how difficult it is to manage this," Parker said, adding that he plans to take part in the research his money will fund. "There are some things on the horizon that are very promising, and I'll be the first in line to try them."
About one in five Americans has some form of allergy, ranging from minor seasonal nuisances to potentially deadly reactions to foods, bees and other stimuli. That one-in-five figure has increased in recent decades, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2003, the most recent year the rate was calculated. Four percent of American children had a food allergy in 2007, according to a separate CDC estimate, a figure that's been also been rising for no clear reason.
The $24 million going to found the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford University in California will finance studies into the causes of allergies and new experimental therapies for patients, said Kari Nadeau, the physician who will lead the institute.
"This is going to be a catalytic change in allergy research by understanding the basic science, as well as focusing on compassionate care and innovation," Nadeau said on the conference call. "We hope it can be done quickly and safely and with long-term durability."
Nadeau's work and her efforts to raise money for research were the subject of a New York Times Magazine profile last year.
Nadeau has developed an experimental treatment called "oral immunotherapy" for children with food allergies. The treatment exposes children to small amounts of substances to which they are allergic, and it's been used to treat more than 700 patients over the past three years, she said.
A better understanding of why the immune system causes allergic reactions, and how some patients can become desensitized to them, could lead to less risky, faster-acting and permanent treatments for all types of allergies, Nadeau said. She could not offer a timeline for when the research might result in the cure she is seeking.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said Parker would donate a quarter of a million dollars to the campaign. It is $24 million.