What’s in $24 Million? The Gift of Hope for Food Allergy

in Gwen Smith: From the Editor's Desk
Published: December 30, 2014

My family is so grateful to you – God bless your generous heart!
THANK YOU Sean Parker.
Many blessings to you and your family!!!
I love this man!!
(Sample comments from Allergic Living’s Facebook page.)

sparkerSean Parker

On December 17, 2014, the food allergy community used up its quota of exclamation marks to thank tech entrepreneur Sean Parker from the bottom of their hearts. He had just pledged $24 million to food allergy research at Stanford University’s school of medicine, and his mission for the money was clear: To find a cure for food allergy.

Think about that number – not one or even 10, but $24 million. This gift to Dr. Kari Nadeau and her outstanding team at Stanford is the biggest one-time donation we’ve seen in food allergy.

The immune-based condition is usually the poor sister of disease research, and chronically underfunded. For perspective, consider that the total U.S. government funding for all food allergy research in 2014 is $37 million.

The pledge from Parker, the billionaire former president of Facebook and co-founder of Napster, raises spirits in the food allergy community that a solution to the scourge of life-threatening anaphylaxis might finally be within reach.

It won’t be a slam dunk: the research will involve greater knowledge of the mechanisms of food allergy and clinical trials, but at least Stanford’s pivotal research group has the means now to aim, with new vigor, for the ultimate objective.

He likely wasn’t aware, but Parker’s timing for this announcement could not have been better. Around Thanksgiving 2014, the food allergy community was left reeling from the news of four food-related anaphylaxis tragedies. Those who died were young men full of life and potential: one in high school, another studying to be a nurse, another an art student and the fourth beginning a career in broadcasting.

Parents and those with food allergies still hadn’t recovered from Halloween, and the passing of little Joseph DeNicola, all of 7 years old. This was a North America-wide community in collective pain.

Parker’s announcement was like a balm for wounded souls – the much-needed gift of hope. Interestingly, $4 million of the $24 million is being used to establish a dollar-for-dollar challenge match for all other new gifts to the Stanford center that will be renamed the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research.

While 99.9 percent of us can’t donate on his scale, Parker is clearly encouraging others to give generously to food allergy research. Deep-pocket pledges are always most welcome, but donation is not just the domain of the rich – get enough of medium-sized and modest contributions together, and they become a significant pool of funds.

Consider that FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) had a strong 2014, raising $5.2 million through its galas, luncheons and golf events, much of which will go to research. Sixty communities across the U.S. also worked tremendously hard for the FARE Walks for Food Allergy, and with one hundred dollars here and a few thousand dollars there, an impressive $3 million was raised for the cause.

Money is the grease that drives research forward. Dr. Nadeau lauds her new benefactor as “a visionary”, but it clearly takes one to know one. Kari Nadeau has led in the area of combination food allergy therapies, rapid desensitization and multiple food allergy desensitization. She is a brilliant scientist with a strong team, and also a caring physician with an incredibly supportive patient community.

In her modest fashion, Dr. Nadeau would be the first to mention that she’s not the only leader in the field. Allergists and immunologists at New York’s Mount Sinai, London’s King’s College, Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and more are contributing to a significant and evolving body of food allergy research. By mid-2014 the pace of new findings seemed to be quickening, with profound new insights into the importance of the skin and the gut.

It’s hard to speak of “visionary” and not mention the work of Mount Sinai’s Dr. Xiu-Min Li and her B-FAHF-2 Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal formula, which has shown great success in individual patient cases. With the latest refinements of her formula, Dr. Li is now also raising funds for a full clinical study.

Whether you choose to donate to FARE, directly to Dr. Li, add to Stanford’s burgeoning effort or donate to another of the allergy centers, let’s all help to make 2015 the year that thousands more individuals contribute gifts of hope – large and small – to food allergy research.

We are indebted to Sean Parker for the vision to see that this field of medical research desperately needed a major infusion of funding. And also for adding a sense of urgency to finding an enduring solution. The underlying message of his big contribution is clear: Let’s get it done.

Related Reading:

Tech Mogul Pledges $24 Million to Find Allergy Cure
New FARE CEO Focuses on Food Allergy Treatments