Sean Parker launches philanthropic foundation to tackle malaria, cancer

Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist Sean Parker formally launched on Wednesday a private foundation established with $600 million of Parker’s own wealth that will be put toward finding cures for diseases such as cancer and malaria, and advancing research in the life sciences.

“We’ve made some progress, but only about 50 percent of cancers are are treatable,” Parker said in an interview this week.

Parker, who for years has donated large sums of money to public health and immunology research since making a fortune as founding president of Facebook and co-founder of Napster, said the Sean N. Parker Foundation will operate with the same boldness and risk-taking appetite of a startup. His aim, Parker said, is to challenge the philanthropic community to deploy more resources to solve global problems such as public health epidemics, and not be so worried about its public image.

“In entrepreneurship, you should risk not only all of your resources but your reputation,” he said. Philanthropists also need to be willing to “put your reputation on the line. But taking risks, putting resources behind things, that’s antithetical to the philanthropic community’s philosophy.”

Parker said he planned on solving problems in his lifetime, exhausting his own fortune, and not let them fester for future generations to solve.

“This will not be an inter-generational foundation,” he said. “I don’t think that makes a lot of sense. The world’s problems are urgent and pressing and they are changing faster than ever.”

Parker has hired fewer than 10 people at the San Francisco-based Parker Foundation, and plans to keep the operation small so it “can be agile and nimble and respond to situations” as a startup would.

“We don’t want to become a large bureaucracy with many, many layers,” he said.

Parker hasn’t completely left the tech world. Earlier this month, he unveiled an app called Brigade, a social network dedicated to politics where users can express their opinions on important policy issues and see how they compare with their friends. The app presents an issue, such as “trade with Asia” and asks the user to take a stance with a simple “agree” or “disagree” button, and the user can then explain his reasoning. If the user is unsure, he can flip through reasons that argue for both sides.

Parker said his hope is to get people more engaged in politics and improve the country’s disappointing voter turnout rate.

Last week, Parker gave a $4.5 million gift to UCSF to tackle malaria. And late last year, Parker gave $24 million to prop up an allergy research center at Stanford University. Researchers there aim to reduce the length of time a patient requires to become desensitized to allergies, down from three to fives years of shots to just a couple of days, or even to a single shot. Parker has dealt with allergies since he was a child, including allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, which has landed him in the emergency room at least 14 times.

“That’s one where I’ve got skin in the game,” he said.

Photo: Sean Parker talks at LeWeb 11 event in Saint-Denis, France, on December 9, 2011. By Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images


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