NEW YORK (November 13, 2017) -- The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) has awarded the 2017 Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research to Ken Marek, MD, president and senior scientist at the Institute for Neurodegenerative Disorders (IND) in New Haven, Connecticut; principal investigator of the Foundation's landmark biomarker study, the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI); and a founding member of the MJFF Scientific Advisory Board. The Prize recognizes researchers who make exceptional contributions to Parkinson's research and exhibit a commitment to mentoring the next generation of Parkinson's scientists.
"Ken is leading some of the most important studies in Parkinson's research," said MJFF CEO Todd Sherer, PhD. "His work is having a monumental impact on the way we conduct research, with important implications for patient-centered studies, data sharing and acceleration of therapies for the millions who need them."
Sherer and Michael J. Fox presented the prize at a Foundation event in New York City on November 11, 2017.
Marek's work strives to identify Parkinson's in its earliest stages, particularly with imaging technologies, and his efforts have validated loss of dopamine function visualized in specialized brain scans as an early marker of the disease. In addition to serving as principal investigator of PPMI, a longitudinal MJFF-sponsored study of more than 1,500 participants at 33 clinical sites around the world, Marek leads the Parkinson's Associated Risk Syndrome (PARS) study under way at 15 clinical sites in the United States.
Beyond scientific findings, Marek's impact on research is felt in the rise of patient-centered studies and adoption of data sharing. By including people with Parkinson's in study development and design, such as through the PPMI Patient Advisory Committee, Marek has paved the way for a greater share of voice for those living with disease. In addition, his commitment to open-access data speeds analysis and therefore discovery and validation. PPMI data, available online in real-time, has been downloaded more than 1.4 million times by researchers around the world.
Over his career -- as leader of PPMI and PARS, founder of IND and Molecular NeuroImaging, and former director of the Movement Disorders Center at Yale University School of Medicine, among other appointments -- Marek also has imbued the next generation of investigators with his passion for neuroscience and dedication to patients.
The Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research, awarded annually by MJFF since 2011, was established by Karen Pritzker, daughter of Robert A. Pritzker, and her late husband, investor Michael Vlock. Their gift provides a $100,000 unrestricted research grant to the Pritzker Prize recipient each year, and Pritzker and Vlock have been generous donors to MJFF.
"I'm honored to be recognized with the Pritzker Prize, but it's an honor, too, for all the people I've worked with over the years to have this work recognized," said Marek. "It really is a milestone in our ongoing effort to develop tools for Parkinson's disease research to ultimately identify individuals at risk for Parkinson's and treat people even before symptoms arise. I am grateful to my partners at The Michael J. Fox Foundation for their collaboration and substantial contribution to this work."
He will direct his grant to build on findings from PPMI and PARS to create a model to predict Parkinson's risk looking at factors such as dopamine function loss, smell loss and genetics. More accurate prediction of Parkinson's disease could help select people for clinical studies and point to prevention strategies.
About the Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research
The Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson's Research is named in honor of the late Robert A. Pritzker, a renowned industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Pritzker was founder of The Marmon Group and president of Colson Associates, Inc., holding companies for a variety of manufacturing and medical businesses. 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.
The MJFF Scientific Advisory Board serves as the jury panel. Selection criteria include 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 PD investigators.
The award itself is designed by renowned artist and Parkinson's patient Tom Shannon.
About The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
As the world's largest nonprofit 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 more than $750 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 the flow of participants into Parkinson's disease clinical trials with its online tool, Fox Trial Finder; promotes Parkinson's awareness through high-profile advocacy, events and outreach; and coordinates the grassroots involvement of thousands of Team Fox members around the world.