When it comes to leading his foundation, Michael J. Fox likes to say, "I’m not an MBA. I'm not a PhD. I'm not an MD. I'm a GED with PD and a high TBq." But the beloved comedian is perfectly serious when talking about his mission: "Purity of motive," says Fox. "We have no other agenda. We just want to figure this out."
"We" is Fox and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) Executive Vice Chairman Debi Brooks. Fox and Brooks co-founded MJFF in 2000 nine years after Fox learned he had Parkinson's. Initially, Fox hid the disease. But on the set of his 1990s sitcom, Spin City, this became too hard. So he went public—to a surprising response. "I noticed that all these questions being asked were about Parkinson's," Fox recalls. "And I said, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity.'"
Together, Fox and Brooks, a Goldman Sachs alum, have seized that opportunity—bringing medical research and business expertise under one roof to accelerate progress for Parkinson's. Early on, they explored and pinpointed the ideal role for their philanthropy: to break down barriers to progress by ushering early stage ideas through the challenging drug development process. In particular, they focused on establishing biomarkers for the progression of Parkinson's. They also created Fox Trial Finder to help match patients with clinical studies, breaking through another barrier to progress.
As of September 2012, MJFF has raised nearly $300 million for Parkinson's research. Fox has also raised the hopes of Parkinson's patients, families, and the legions of people who want him to succeed. Well aware that any cure for Parkinson's will not likely be found in time to help Fox, he and Brooks have nevertheless managed to harness a palpable urgency for their pursuit—one that is underscored by Fox's condition. "I'm a presence every day, and so people are reminded [of] what they're doing."