Much work remains to bring patients new and improved treatments for Parkinson's and related parkinsonisms. We strive to overcome systemic challenges and speed progress by funding therapies, supporting cutting-edge science, developing research tools, harnessing the potential of emerging technology, and mobilizing stakeholders.
Drug development for brain disease is complex. No blueprint exists to easily identify the most promising targets or critical challenges in Parkinson's research. The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is uniquely positioned to speed breakthroughs by providing scientists with the funding, tools and collaborative partnerships they need. Our research strategy directly supports promising individual projects while also addressing field-wide challenges through creative, consortium-driven solutions.
Our in-house team of PhD neuroscientists and business strategists — with input from global experts in Parkinson’s disease (PD) — sets our research priorities. Through our peer-review process, more than 1,500 proposals are reviewed each year to identify and pursue research leads worldwide that hold the potential to benefit people living with Parkinson’s. Approximately 30% of our research funding goes to projects led by teams outside of the United States. And it is a core value of our Foundation that we make results of funded research available to be shared as quickly and widely as possible, thereby ensuring that every researcher has access to new information and developments that can advance the field. Our consortium approaches encourage built-in milestones that provide opportunity to troubleshoot and track progress.
Working at the global nexus of Parkinson’s research, MJFF is uniquely positioned to cultivate and maintain a field-wide perspective on new learnings and emerging challenges. The ever-evolving research landscape shapes the next steps in the journey to attain our singular goal: new and improved treatments, up to and including a cure, for Parkinson's. At any given moment, our aim is to prioritize the field's most important activities, articulate their importance, gain stakeholder buy-in, and provide funding and technical assistance to push them forward.
The Answers We Want
1. Better Understanding of Parkinson's Biology
Discovery research is the backbone of all therapeutic development. Basic Parkinson's science involves identifying and characterizing disease biology, measuring onset/progression and developing new treatments targeting the disease. Exploring cellular functions and pathological mechanisms in the presence of PD-implicated genetic mutations, environmental contributors, aging and other factors sets the stage for watershed advances in therapeutic development for diseases of the brain. The breakthrough discovery in 2023 of a biomarker test that detects the misfolded alpha-synuclein protein, achieved by an international coalition of scientists led by MJFF and our landmark clinical study, Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), now makes it possible for the first time to diagnose Parkinson’s biologically, even before symptoms begin. The test is ushering in a new biological era for Parkinson’s research, revolutionizing how we understand the disease, streamlining clinical trials and accelerating therapeutic development.
2. Translation of Biology to Patient-relevant Therapies
Public and private investments worldwide continually grow the base of human understanding of biology, with newspapers reporting on intriguing new discoveries every week. But the process of translating these early-stage findings into proven and practical treatments is slow and inefficient. Translation requires a laser-like focus on chaperoning the most promising findings along the pipeline toward clinical trials, as well as deliberate investment in the building blocks that will increase the odds of clear, actionable results from those trials.
3. An Open, Inclusive and Collaborative Research Environment
Robust, collaborative, replicable research is a requirement for faster progress. The Foundation works to build an open and collaborative research environment through strategic investment in standardized tools and methods; open, real-time sharing of biosamples, data and new findings; and open communication among industry and academic scientists, as well as productive and rigorous dialogue between patients and researchers. MJFF also is assembling broad cohorts of potential research volunteers mobilized to participate in Parkinson’s studies and trials.
How We'll Get There
The Foundation takes an iterative approach in the development of an annual action plan that guides our investments. A series of roadmaps, along with strategic funding and required infrastructure around targets, pathways and symptoms, help to increase momentum in Parkinson’s understanding and translation to clinical impact.
1. Funding Millions in High-risk and High-reward Science
MJFF today is a major and irreplaceable funder of Parkinson's science with sound rationale and clear patient relevance. We strive to fund at least $100 million in research programs annually. Through a combination of peer-reviewed investigator-initiated funding programs and staff-directed grants, we support both critical high-risk and high-reward projects that others can't or won't.
2. Providing Vital Non-Financial Resources for PD Researchers
MJFF creates and distributes critical laboratory tools and makes well-characterized data and pristine biosamples available to qualified researchers worldwide for independent study. This encourages an open research environment that promotes replication while preserving time and focus on mission-critical investigations of Parkinson's biology. The power of health tech (such as smartphones, wearable devices and data science approaches) is also being harnessed to measure and manage PD. And, we are a vital link between the patient community and researchers by sharing information on clinical trial participation and connecting them to trials that need volunteers.
3. Serving as the Field's Leading Convener
The Michael J. Fox Foundation has built credibility across the Parkinson's community, earning a reputation as a leading convener with the acumen and authority to unite disparate stakeholders (e.g., patients, researchers from academia and industry, policymakers and regulators) for the purpose of building consensus to speed research progress. We assemble consortia to align on the most pressing field-wide needs, problem-solve seemingly intractable research challenges, and jump-start collaborations to accelerate progress and break down silos around traditional research design.