Monthly Edition: October 2008

MJFF FOR PARKINSON'S RESEARCH: How We Work to Speed Development of Transformative Treatments and a Cure for PD

By: Katie Hood, Chief Executive Officer, The Michael J. Fox Foundation

When Michael J. Fox went public with his Parkinson's diagnosis in 1998, he announced his intention to bring new attention not only to the nearly five million people living with the disease worldwide, but also to the needs of the research community working to speed progress toward a cure. He launched The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) late in 2000 with one objective: drive research forward and accelerate a PD cure. While today we are the largest funder of Parkinson's research outside the United States government, with over $125 million in PD research awarded to date, we realize now that our true value comes not just from dollars spent but from how we spend them.

Focus on Translation
Around 90 percent of our funding is dedicated to translational or clinical research. We look at the therapeutics development pipeline and seek strategic ways to help researchers push forward specific therapeutic approaches or critically needed tools and resources. We want our capital to take risks and behave differently from NIH or other research funders. Whether early or late in development, we scrutinize every grant we review with patient outcomes in mind: How significant an advance would this be in patients' lives? How likely is this project to push progress one step closer to the clinic?

To put our model into action, we've assembled an in-house research team that sits at the hub of PD science worldwide and has amassed a broad yet substantive expertise on the opportunities and challenges facing today's Parkinson's field. Supported by an extensive network of scientific advisors (including many members of MDS), this team each year reviews up to 800 grant proposals; talks formally and informally with hundreds of the world's top PD experts; and participates in scores of conferences, meetings and workshops on topics of critical importance to Parkinson's research. With increasing demands on this in-house team, we are interested in hearing from MDs and PhDs who have an interest in joining our team. I would encourage those with an interest in our work to contact us directly.

Not Just a Grant - A Partnership One of our most important tenets is that a grant from MJFF is not just an infusion of cash, it's a strategic partnership. Our field awareness complements the deep expertise of the researchers we work with, allowing us to help awardees plan ahead - anticipating problems before they arise and troubleshooting if they do.

We are always working to foster key collaborations - and broker necessary relationships - to spur translation. Our true partnerships with academic and industry researchers let us bring grantees together to problem-solve with peers they may never have met otherwise. They often find collaborations they never expected and take their work in new directions. One example of this is a working group we created recently to tackle the subject of dyskinesias, the disruptive movements that come about as a side effect of long-term dopamine replacement therapy. While our Foundation was funding several separate promising dyskinesia projects, and the investigators coordinating these projects had all worked together in the past, we realized that no coordinated effort existed to tackle dyskinesias in a top-down way and prioritize the efforts that could forward progress. Our Dyskinesia Working Group is a vibrant and productive team, tackling this subject in a different way than it's been tackled before.

It makes me proud to hear researchers like Erwan Bezard, PhD, of Universit Victor Segalen in Bordeaux, France, express enthusiasm for our model. "The collaborations and connections I've made through MJFF would normally take a lifetime to establish," he told us. "I have around 20 active collaborations going at the moment, and every single one stems from an MJFF introduction. Because of the work I've done with the Foundation and the connections I've made, I'm always thinking translationally. MJFF has turned me into a translational researcher."

The MJFF Mindset
At the end of the day, the MJFF approach means focusing on how to push every project forward - how to help researchers find the right partners, tools and follow-on funding for their work, and how to speed the results of their good work forward to patients.

Our Foundation is young, and our model is unproven. But we can't sit back and wait and hope for solutions to fall from the sky. We're a new kind of player on this field, shepherding the science forward toward patients faster and more efficiently. It's an experiment in changing the status quo when the status quo isn't good enough.

Katie Hood

About Katie Hood
Katie Hood was named Chief Executive Officer of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) in December 2007. Prior to joining the Foundation in September 2002, Ms. Hood was employed as a consultant at Bain & Company in New York City, doing work in the consumer products, financial services, and nonprofit sectors. She has also served as an analyst in the Credit Department of Goldman, Sachs & Co., and as a program coordinator with Duke University's Hart Leadership Program. In August 2008, Ms. Hood was named to the Advisory Council to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). She also is a member of the Board of Directors of the Parkinson's Action Network (PAN). She graduated from Harvard Business School and holds a BA in Public Policy Studies from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.