Alex P. Keaton. Marty McFly. Teen Wolf. Doc Hollywood. Mike Flaherty. Michael J. Fox has played dozens of incredible, time-tested characters in movies and television, but if you ask people in the Parkinson’s community to describe him, his acting likely won’t be the first thing mentioned. Instead, you may hear: Advocate. Author. Activist. Recently, we were lucky to host Michael J. Fox and Todd Sherer, PhD, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research here at Verily. Not surprisingly, we heard Michael talk about how inspired he is by others living with Parkinson’s disease in return while Todd shared an optimistic overview of the research underway toward a cure. With great candor and humor, Michael gave us a glimpse into the ups and downs of living with this disease, from managing his medication and his expectations to using his unique position to press for scientific research, accountability, and results for those in need.
Michael was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 and publicly disclosed his condition in 1998. A few years following that announcement, The Michael J. Fox Foundation was formed to fund research and in his own words “put itself out of business” by finding a cure. The Foundation catalyzed new activity and interest with key groups including academia, the biopharmaceutical industry, and the public sector and helped transform the Parkinson’s research landscape. As easily one of the most well-known public figures with Parkinson’s disease, Michael brought much needed awareness for continued research and new hope for people living with the condition. As a neurologist and researcher at UCSF prior to joining Verily, I became involved with the organization as a scientific advisor and grant reviewer soon after its inception. The Foundation has achieved significant progress in its short existence, with more than $750 million dollars in Parkinson's research to date, but more remains to be done.
At Verily, we are working to fill knowledge gaps with clinical research that takes a broad and deep look at Parkinson’s as well as other diseases, including a multi-year clinical research study with Radboud University Medical Center, Radboud University, and ParkinsonNet, aimed at identifying biological markers for Parkinson’s disease. We are applying our investigational Study Watch for medical research, sophisticated assays for analysis of biospecimens, and advanced analytical techniques in an effort to discover new insights across multi-dimensional data sets. But as much as these are scientific and technical challenges, it’s critical to remember that disease is not an abstract problem; rather, it is a living, breathing part of people’s daily lives. By gathering data on the experience of Parkinson’s disease outside the four walls of the clinic, we hope to shed light on some of the mysteries of the disease that have confounded treating physicians and researchers for decades, such as why disease progresses differently for different people, in the hopes that these insights could one day lead to improved therapy.
When our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jessica Mega, talks about ideas that can transform healthcare, she often returns to an important theme: “Think about patients as people.” As a physician having treated people with neurological conditions for 25 years, I couldn’t agree more. Our work at Verily spans a variety of disciplines and the tie that binds us all together is an unrelenting drive to improve human health—be it through Liftware, to help patients with Parkinson’s to eat independently, or through investing in studies that could lead to more proactive and personalized care.
We hope you are also inspired by Michael’s story and the Foundation’s work as shared with our team at Verily, available through Talks at Google and below. To read more, see the Foundation's blog post on the event.
Posted by William Marks, MD, MS, Head of Clinical Neurology