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19 August 2022

Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease Research, New York, US

The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research aims to encourage the development of therapies to treat Parkinson's disease.
The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) funds research into finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Credit: Chinnapong / Shutterstock.
Canadian-American actor Michael J Fox founded the MJFF in 2000. Credit: drserg / Shutterstock.
Parkinson’s disease affects the central nervous system. Credit: Kateryna Kon / Shutterstock.
The disease’s main motor symptoms are caused by the death of cells that generate dopamine in the brain’s substantia nigra region. Credit: SciePro / Shutterstock.
The UB-312 vaccine funded by the MJFF was found to be effective in slowing or halting Parkinson’s, as well as being completely safe. Credit: Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) funds research into finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease (PD). The organisation’s office is located in New York City, US.

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The MJFF was founded by Canadian-American actor Michael J Fox, who is himself affected by PD, in 2000. MJFF is a non-profit organisation and a registered charity in Canada. It is one of the world’s largest private funders of PD research.

PD is a neurodegenerative ailment that affects the central nervous system. Symptoms of the disease include tremors and difficulty with walking and balancing. In some cases, it can lead to severe cognitive impairment, including dementia. By 2040, the disease is expected to affect 14 million individuals worldwide.

The MJFF’s main goal is to expedite the development of the next generation of PD treatments. The organisation identifies and funds projects that are of importance to PD patients while coordinating and streamlining the efforts of multiple teams.

Programmes funded by the MJFF

The MJFF funds pipeline programmes such as projects that do not have any preliminary data but have the potential for high rewards, as well as the preclinical development of therapies.

The MJFF has funded more than $1.5bn in research since 2000 and accepts donations from both individuals and organisations. More than 85% of donations made to the organisation directly go into research programmes. The MJFF awarded 531 research grants in 2019 and 2020, in addition to 50 grants totalling $28m between February and March 2022 and $22m in April and May 2022.

In addition to pipeline programmes and priority areas, funds and models are made available for researchers such as tissues of rodent models and human post-mortem tissues, human body donations, human bio-specimens, and access to previous clinical data.

Funding process of the MJFF

The MJFF follows a set approach in research funding, which involves prioritising the research that would help reach its goal of finding a cure for PD.

All proposals received are first reviewed by the organisation’s scientific staff, who look for ideas that are encouraging and have realistic plans of finding a treatment/cure for the disease.

Selected proposals are usually funded within two months. In addition to funding, the MJFF’s staff and advisors are involved in the funded research, helping the organisation to measure outcomes of the research.

Details of the MJFF’s Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI)

The MJFF is sponsoring an observational clinical study called the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), which aims to identify biomarkers of PD by studying recently diagnosed patients and healthy subjects.

The study enrolled 4,000 PD patients across 50 sites worldwide. A database was created, which was made available to researchers in the field. The MJFF generates antibodies and makes them available to researchers at a low cost. LRRK2 were the first high-quality antibodies generated in June 2011.

In December 2021, the MJFF announced an expansion of the PPMI to increase enrolment in the study to 100,000 people with or without PD by 2023.

The organisation’s Fox Trial Finder initiative encourages PD patients to participate in clinical trials to boost new findings in the field. This aims to help volunteers consider trial options and researchers connect with the volunteers.

International industry partnerships funded by the MJFF

The MJFF’s Partnering Program aims to encourage synergies between fund awardees and industry players. It has funded 150 PD projects, which are a collaboration of researchers and industry partners, to date.

In 2001, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) (China) Research and Development (R&D), a subsidiary of UK-based pharmaceutical company GSK, signed separate agreements with MJFF awardees Signum Biosciences and ProteoTech to collaborate on developing treatments that target the alpha-synuclein (αSyn) protein.

The MJFF has also fostered partnerships with Elan Pharmaceuticals and EMD Serono, the healthcare business of science and technology company Merck. Elan’s partnership with the organisation gave the company the right of first negotiation for any novel approaches to PD drug discovery.

The partnership with  EMD Serono is for preclinical and clinical research to develop treatments for cognitive deficits and behavioural disturbances related to the disease.

Other companies the MJFF has partnered with for PD research include Abbott, 4d Pharma, Acadia Pharmaceuticals, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Eli Lilly.

Research developments

In July 2022, a research programme that had received early funding from the MJFF completed a randomised first-in-human study of the UB-312 vaccine. US-based biotechnology company Vaxxinity conducted the study, which aimed to assess the vaccine’s safety, tolerability and immunogenicity.

The study found the vaccine to be effective in producing antibodies against the αSyn protein, which is a key protein involved in the pathology of PD.

Fundraising events and Team Fox

The MJFF organises annual fundraising events in addition to the PD Therapeutics Conference and research roundtables. The organisation launched a grassroots-level community fundraising programme, Team Fox, in 2006. It has 1,500 volunteers who raise awareness and funds for the disease.

The MJFF also receives grants from several foundations and companies that promote pharmaceutical research.

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