The Michel J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) has appointed Irene Hegeman Richard, M.D., to the newly created position of Senior Medical Advisor, a sign that MJFF’s investment in clinical research will continue to increase.
MJFF participates in venture philanthropy, a term coined to describe the funding that disease foundations provide to biopharmaceutical companies to research potential drugs and therapies in their respective diseases. U.S. disease foundations’ investment in the biopharmaceutical industry in 2007 will be about $75 million—10 times as much as their investment in 2000, according to CenterWatch. The figure should continue to rise.
MJFF launched its industry program, called Therapeutics Development Initiative, in 2006 to expand its industry investment. Last year, 10 industry research teams were awarded $4.6 million, though other funding commitments often have an industry component. The foundation has committed $5 million to industry in 2007 to 2008. Since its founding in 2000, MJFF has funded more than $98 million in research, either directly or through partnerships.
“Over the last couple of years, our funding portfolio has started to include more clinical studies and also more preclinical studies that are building towards—hopefully if everything works out—being clinical intervention approaches. And what we’re looking to work with Dr. Richard on is getting the unbiased input on a day-to-day basis of somebody who is an active clinical researcher, an active neurologist who sees patients and knows the problems and issues of treating Parkinson’s patients so that we can have and integrate that input into not only our preclinical work that we’re supporting but also clinical studies,” said Todd Sherer, Ph.D., vice president of research at MJFF.
Richard first worked with MJFF as a grant reviewer in 2004 for the foundation’s annual Clinical Discovery Program and has served on the foundation’s Senior Advisory Board since 2006.
“[MJFF’s] philosophy of being willing to really just go for it and to realize, ‘Look, we want to cure Parkinson’s disease and, short of that, we want to do everything we can to make the lives of patients with Parkinson’s disease better’—that’s been my goal too. The problem is that other funding agencies with whom I’ve dealt, their goals have been more diffuse and they’ve also suffered from inefficiencies. With the Fox Foundation, what I really liked was their efficiency and their passion and the fact that it was also a really nice, enthusiastic group of people to work with. Our relationship has evolved over time,” said Richard.
Because the position of senior medical advisor is not full-time, Richard will maintain her faculty appointment as associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry as well as her Parkinson’s disease patient practice. She will also still be involved in multicenter clinical trials, including one that is funded by the National Institutes of Health that she is currently leading.
“I’m continuing with my clinical and clinical research activities, and I think that enables me to keep my finger on the pulse of what is going on in the trenches, so to speak. And I think in that way I’ll be more valuable to [MJFF] than if I were to walk into their office every day with my briefcase and sit down and talk with them. Certainly, some of what I could provide in that capacity was what I gained over the years, but having said that, things are constantly changing and I think that we all, as clinicians, learn that there’s always something new that you learn with every patient you see,” Richard said.