In 2011, The Michael J. Fox Foundation announced a $50-million opportunity for supporters to double their impact in the pursuit of a cure for Parkinson’s. Two years later, in early 2013, MJFF shared it had completed the Brin Wojcicki Challenge, earning all $50 million on the table. In fact, because of the enthusiasm and generosity of the Foundation’s community of donors, Challenge-eligible giving exceeded the original goal by about $3 million — all of which was also matched.
Meeting the Challenge was no small feat. Its success would require — and inspire — thousands to take action. And they did. People joined this movement as new friends to the Foundation, as returning supporters who had given prior to 2010, and as steadfast multi-year donors who stretched their giving.
Behind the Challenge was the generosity of longtime supporters Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe, a personal genetics company. At the conclusion of the Challenge, their personal giving to MJFF totals more than $157.5 million since 2004.
“Anne and Sergey’s friendship to our Foundation and to Parkinson’s patients worldwide is awe-inspiring,” says Michael J. Fox. “As if a $50-million match weren’t tremendous in its own right, they’ve gone above and beyond their initial commitment to match the $3 million extra ponied up by our incredible supporters. There’s no doubt the Challenge has made our community stronger and more vibrant in its passionate pursuit of a cure.”
An opportune moment and an urgent need
Mr. Brin and Ms. Wojcicki chose an opportune moment in Parkinson’s drug development to launch the Challenge. The Michael J. Fox Foundation and its research partners believe that the pipeline of new Parkinson’s treatments is as robust as it has been in decades, if not ever. Understanding of the factors underlying disease onset and progression is increasing, and insights from genetics are opening new avenues for therapeutic development.
In 2013 we are continuing our critical work to mobilize the researcher and patient communities in the hunt for medical breakthroughs patients can feel in their everyday lives. We remain particularly focused on:
- The search for a disease-modifying treatment. This spring, results are expected from Ceregene, Inc.’s most recent MJFF-supported Phase 2 clinical trial of neurturin, a trophic factor that could help restore dopamine neurons in the Parkinson’s brain. As Parkinson’s genetics continues to revolutionize the field, MJFF is growing its initiatives focused on alpha-synuclein and LRRK2, the two most important genetic targets in PD. The Foundation’s landmark biomarker study, PPMI, has nearly completed recruitment and is analyzing baseline data (all of which has been made available to the research community at large in real time).* PPMI is launching a new arm to study people at increased risk for the disease.
- Looking beyond the dopamine system. Today there is a better understanding than ever that Parkinson’s involves a constellation of symptoms that go well beyond dopamine signaling. MJFF-enabled partnerships with Bristol Myers Squibb, Sanofi, Addex and other major pharmaceutical firms are pushing new classes of symptomatic therapies, as well as treatments for cognition and dyskinesia, closer than ever to the clinic.
- Increasing the flow of willing volunteers for clinical research through Fox Trial Finder. Fox Trial Finder (foxtrialfinder.org) has already registered 15,000 patient and control volunteers who want to be matched to the best trials for them. In 2013 the site comes online in five more European countries and aims to double its registered volunteers to 30,000.
Yet in the midst of this promising activity, government and commercial sources of research funding continue to dry up. Especially as more research approaches the clinic, where costs rise steeply, there has never been a more important time or a greater need for the Parkinson’s community to work together to ensure sufficient funding to keep the most promising projects moving forward.
“Our Foundation’s promise to Parkinson’s patients is to work urgently to identify and fund the projects closest or most critical to practical therapeutic relevance,” says Todd Sherer, PhD, MJFF’s CEO. “We’re grateful to our Challenge participants and our entire community of supporters for helping us continue to fulfill that promise. And we hope to count on them to build upon this momentum in the year ahead.”
*At press time (March 15, 2013), PPMI had not yet completed recruitment.