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Sean Parker's $250 million quest to cure cancer

Sean Parker, Chairman of of Causes and a Managing Partner, Founder's Fund, speaks at Web. 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 17, 2011. Parker was co-founder of Napster. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)Billionaire Sean Parker has earned a reputation, and a vast fortune, for thinking outside the box. Helping to launch Napster and Facebook, however, will be mere footnotes in his biography if his latest endeavor proves successful. From his foundation, Parker is investing $250 million in order to start the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy—an effort to bring together at least three hundred scientists from forty labs at six prestigious research institutions in order to find a cure for cancer.

By increasing collaboration and decreasing competition, the new venture hopes to make it easier for those working towards the same goal to eventually reach it. The group will focus on immunotherapy treatments—a relatively new yet promising branch of cancer research that uses the body's own defense systems to attack cancer cells. While early tests have shown that the treatment all but eliminated the presence of cancer in some patients, it was ineffectual or counterproductive in others.

Still, while researchers don't fully understand why it only works for certain patients, the field has demonstrated enough potential to warrant further study. One of the primary obstacles to improving on our understanding in this area, however, is the notorious difficulty and expense of getting the new treatments from development to clinical trials. That's where the Parker Institute hopes to help the most.

As part of their efforts, the Institute will work directly with patient advocacy groups and private companies as well as others within the industry to license and negotiate terms for bringing therapies to the market. As Parker described, "This allows us to run a much more competitive negotiation with industry. We would become a kind of one-stop shop for the technology" associated with their new treatments. The hope is that by streamlining and expediting the process of going from development to testing, researchers can avoid a good bit of the red tape that often makes the transition so difficult.

Ultimately, researchers will continue to face a long road to discovering a cure for cancer, and many continue to doubt whether it is even possible to do so. However, working together and focusing on collaboration instead of competition seems more likely to yield results than the previous method. That's not to say that competition is always counterproductive, or even that there will not continue to be some measure of competition involved in Parker's process. But competition as a product of collaboration is always more productive than competition for its own sake.

If our primary goal is to simply be better than those with whom we are competing, then we will only grow as much as is necessary to remain ahead of others. When competition is the means to a larger end, however, we can measure our progress by a higher standard.

For researchers with the Parker Institute, that means competing with one another to provide the most helpful research and scientific advancements for the betterment of the group. For Christians, the same principle should apply to how we work with one another to advance the gospel.

This lesson seems particularly lacking within many of our churches, where growth often comes at the expense of other bodies of believers rather than by reaching out to the lost in our communities. It is not wrong for churches to accept believers from other local bodies of Christ. But when our respective strategies for growth focus less on attracting the lost than the saved, perhaps it's time to step back and take a closer look at what we're really hoping to accomplish for the kingdom.

When our churches compete with one another without the larger kingdom in mind, we're essentially just changing jerseys in heaven. If, however, we could learn from the successes of our fellow believers and use their accomplishments as fuel to reach out to the lost in our communities, then we could begin to see Christ's ultimate goal for his Church fulfilled (Matthew 28:19–20). So why are you competing today?

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