“We don’t have a Department of Cures. We don’t have a Secretary of Cures. We have to drive that agenda ourselves,” says Michael J. Fox. “When I founded the organization in 2000, our objective was to get Parkinson’s solved as quickly as possible.”
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s through aggressively funded research. In 2008, the foundation funded $32.8 million in research, bringing the total investment since its inception to more than $140 million.
In the beginning, Fox had a war chest of only $7 million. “Over the last eight years, we’ve had funders who’ve made major gifts to us. They’ve been watching us, seeing that our methods, our objectives, are in line with what they have been looking for.
“In the past, there’s been a tendency, with Parkinson’s and with other diseases, to just make an institutional gift — to make a gift to the university, to the hospital. Which is not a bad thing to do. But if you have a focused issue that you want to affect, you might want to look at a foundation like us that targets the research and gets the money directly to the researcher.”
Fox admits that he’s not an administrator. “I’m not an MBA. I’m not a PhD,” he says.
“I’m interested in communicating with the community. My biggest concern is the people who are out there living with this disease, counting on our progress. I never lose sight of the fact that that’s what it’s all about.”
In the lab
In April 2008, Dr. Michael Schwarzschild, director of the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that a certain molecule, a natural antioxidant in the blood, could be a good target for development therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
“It suggested a compelling clinical trial,” says Dr. Schwarzschild. “I had begun to work with the National Institute of Health, but the NIH works on a different timescale than the Fox Foundation. When I presented it to the foundation, they informed me of their intention to fund it within two months. That’s one-fifth of the time that NIH works on receiving proposals. We’ve just started clinical trials based on the award. We’ve already started enrolling patients.”