Finding the cure
FOUNDED IN 2000, the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is dedicated to finding a
cure for Parkinson’s disease (PD) within the decade. The largest private funder of
Parkinson’s research, it has provided about $140 million for research to date.
Eighty-four cents of every dollar raised goes to funding research efforts, and the
organization deliberately holds no endowment or excessive reserves, choosing to
deploy donor-raised funds immediately in the ongoing fight for a cure.
Among the most promising research funded by the foundation:
Two separate clinical trials to investigate Federal Drug Administration–
approved drugs for cholesterol (simvastatin) and high blood pressure (
israd-ipine) that may have unintended but beneficial effects on PD. Both drugs
are known to be safe for humans, and could move swiftly toward approval
for PD if they prove effective.
Investigation of a recently discovered gene called LRRK2, which is believed to
be the most common genetic cause of PD. MJFF has invested $5 million to
comprehensively drive this research.
Studies of specialized proteins called neurotrophic factors that could help repair
and protect the neurons that die in patients with Parkinson’s disease. MJFF has
funded approximately $19 million in trophic factor research to date, in hopes of
speeding clinical use of practical trophic-based therapeutic approaches.
To learn more about MJFF’s funding philosophy and their full portfolio of funded
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Team Fox (a grassroots community
financial community, helped in part by the role that
had made him famous.
“When I started the foundation, all these Wall
Street guys grew up idolizing Alex [his Family Ties
character]. So in a way their help with the foundation was a way of giving back,” Fox says.
His foundation differs from others in that it
does not focus on patient advocacy, although he is
quick to laud those that do. The Michael J. Fox
Foundation is dedicated to one thing: the eradication of Parkinson’s disease through direct funding
“Studies that we’re funding are not … limited
to drug therapies or potential cures but [are] also
into the effects of exercise and diet, psychology or
attitude,” he says.
While Fox’s attitude is positive, he notes the
difficulty for many with PD to embrace an upbeat
“I always qualify my mental attitude … with
the acknowledgment that depression is a very real
part of this for many people and it”s just something
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from which I’ve been spared. You can have all kinds
of positive feelings about life, but it’s canceled by
this ‘house’ sitting on you every day.”
He’s not simply looking for a cure for PD but
looking to make a real difference.
“We need a new paradigm in this country for
how we approach cure-based research,” he explains.
“One of the things we do with our foundation is
work with pharmaceutical companies to help them
‘de-risk’ certain elements of the drug pipeline. And
we need to see more government action on that
too. There are proprietary rights, but at a certain
point they have to recognize their responsibility to
share information to make possible cures. Now, it’s
not part of the culture.”
While his foundation and, to a lesser degree, his
career are driving forces in his life, neither is as
important to Fox as his family—wife Tracy; son
Sam, 19; twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler,
14; and younger daughter, Esmé, 7—and he is
determined to not allow Parkinson’s to derail his
interactions with them.
“When my kids look at me,” he says, “they react
more to the joy I experience. If you asked them to
describe me, I don’t think the PD is the first thing
Given his age and accomplishments, it is not
too early for Michael J. Fox to consider his legacy.
Taking no time to consider, his answer is a straightforward and earnest “I hope it’s as a parent.”
For Fox, Parkinson’s disease is a frustrating and
annoying part of his everyday life. He has to coordinate his medication to get the most control over
his body as possible to meet his busy schedule,
whether performing, on behalf of the foundation
or being with his family. But he is determined to
live his life to the fullest.
“There are things that I can’t do to the extent
that I used to do or, in some cases, at all,” admits
Fox. “But there are more things that I do that I
didn’t do before. We sometimes see subtractions
when we’re ill. They’re not just subtractions. I’m
not me minus anything; I’m me plus this experience. Whether it’s good or bad is a subjective
thing, but this has assuredly changed my path.
And changed the way I look at things. Changed
the things I do. I started this foundation; I wrote
two books now. I’ve had experiences meeting people and traveling I never would have had. I’ve seen
the reaction people have to my message, which is
a positive message and a message we can change
things not out of panic but out of hope and a
sense of purpose.”
Although he is not acting regularly now, he
continues to do guest shots and voiceovers and will
host a one-hour special on ABC, Michael J. Fox:
Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, airing May 7,
in which he explores optimism and talks to people
around the world who have overcome great obstacles to live full and happy lives.
“You still get to write the book,” he advises. “It’s
going to have some chapters you might not have
anticipated, but it’s still your story.” C