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Anders Björklund, MD, PhD, Awarded Inaugural Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research by The Michael J. Fox Foundation

Karen Pritzker and Husband Michael Vlock Invest $1.5M to Recognize Critical Contributions to Parkinson's Drug Development

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) today announced that Anders Björklund, MD, PhD, of Lund University, Sweden, is the recipient of the first Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research. The prize honors both current cutting-edge research as well as an individual’s entire body of work. Dr. Björklund was selected for his profound contributions to Parkinson’s disease therapeutic development and his exceptional commitment to mentoring the next generation of Parkinson’s researchers. He will receive a $100,000 unrestricted grant to advance his current research.

“We’re grateful to Karen Pritzker and Michael Vlock for giving us a new way to recognize the scientists working tirelessly to speed Parkinson’s breakthroughs,” says MJFF founder Michael J. Fox. “It’s fitting that the award is named for Robert Pritzker, a businessman known for his commitment to innovation and creativity. Anders, a longtime collaborator with our Foundation, embodies similar qualities in the lab — he’s a true giant of PD research.”

A member of MJFF’s Scientific Advisory Board since 2005, Björklund has dedicated his career to developing improved treatments for Parkinson’s patients. Since the early 1970s, he has forged innovative solutions for shepherding promising findings out of academic research settings, through the pre-clinical drug development maze, and into clinical investigation.

Björklund is an international leader in studies of reparative and neuroprotective mechanisms in the central nervous system (CNS) and has pioneered the development of therapies for cell replacement and repair in the mammalian CNS. He also has studied the role of neurotrophic factors (specialized proteins that protect and repair the neurons that die in Parkinson’s disease) in slowing or stopping the progression of PD. Additionally, he has led groundbreaking efforts to develop treatments for levodopa-induced dyskinesia, the debilitating side effect of long-term dopamine replacement therapy.

The prize is named in honor of Robert A. Pritzker, a renowned industrialist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.  Pritzker is founder of The Marmon Group and president of Colson Associates, Inc., holding companies for a variety of manufacturing and medical businesses.  He attributes much of his success to his unique approach to management. As a business leader, Pritzker has always sought to establish a creative and productive work environment by encouraging his employees to work independently.  Additionally, he was an early promoter of the field of medical engineering at his alma mater, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, where he also played a key role in expanding the biomedical research community through his support of The Pritzker Institute for Biomedical Science and Engineering at IIT. Launched in 1980, this center has opened new areas of cutting-edge biomedical study and expanded the university’s presence in the greater research community.

The Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research is made possible by Karen Pritzker, daughter of Robert A. Pritzker, and her husband, investor Michael Vlock. Their gift of $1.5M over three years will provide a $100,000 grant to the Pritzker Prize recipient each year, as well as $400,000 to support allied MJFF research programs.

“My father has Parkinson’s, so I have seen firsthand the ravaging effects of this disease,” says Karen Pritzker. “This prize recognizes the too-often unsung contributions of scientists who actively seek to convert new discoveries in PD research into practical, patient-relevant treatments. My greatest hope is that this award will help bring the Parkinson’s community one step closer to a cure.”

The Executive Scientific Advisory Board of The Michael J. Fox Foundation served as the jury panel. Selection criteria included: the nominee’s complete body of work in the PD field with an emphasis on its impact on accelerating drug development; field-wide impact of the nominee’s work; dedication to patient-relevant science; and influence on and encouragement of the next generation of Parkinson’s disease investigators.

The award will be presented to Dr. Björklund at a luncheon in November 2011 in New York City.

About Robert A. Pritzker
Robert A. Pritzker is a member of a prominent family in American business and philanthropy. In 1954 he became president of the Colson Company, manufacturer of industrial and institutional casters and wheeled equipment. His leadership led to the acquisition of other companies, which in 1964 were merged under the name The Marmon Group. Over the years, he also has served on the board of directors of several institutions. A Chicago native, Pritzker entered California Institute of Technology as an engineering student before transferring to the Illinois Institute of Technology to complete his undergraduate studies. Pritzker later completed graduate-level business and industrial administration courses as the University of Illinois. His commitment to education led him to teach at IIT, the University of Chicago and as a visiting professor at Oxford University in England. Pritzker was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1998.

About The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research
As the world’s largest private funder of Parkinson’s research, The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to accelerating a cure for Parkinson’s disease and improved therapies for those living with the condition today. The Foundation pursues its goals through an aggressively funded, highly targeted research program coupled with active global engagement of scientists, Parkinson’s patients, business leaders, clinical trial participants, donors and volunteers.  In addition to funding over $240 million in research to date, the Foundation has fundamentally altered the trajectory of progress toward a cure. Operating at the hub of worldwide Parkinson’s research, the Foundation forges groundbreaking collaborations with industry leaders, academic scientists and government research funders; increases Parkinson’s awareness through high-profile advocacy, events and outreach; and coordinates the grassroots involvement of thousands of Team Fox members around the world.

Read the original release here.

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