Rewriting Life

Michael J. Fox asks researchers, investors to speed therapies for diseases like Parkinson's

May 7, 2007

BOSTON (AP) – Actor Michael J. Fox appealed to scientists and investors Monday to aggressively translate scientific research into creative treatments for debilitating diseases, including the Parkinson’s disease he has fought for more than a decade.

Fox said grants from the National Institute of Health have created a system that mainly encourages academic scientists to publish papers that yield academically interesting answers. But the system fails to translate the discoveries into new treatments and cures.

He said pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies aren’t interested in high-risk studies critical in determining whether creative ideas could yield therapies for the 20,000 human diseases that have no cure. They are more interested in repackaging old ideas and compounds in an effort to continue reaping vast returns.

”Levodopa is the gold-standard treatment for Parkinson’s … But it’s a little frustrating that the best drug we’ve got is one that’s been around for 40 years. 40 years!” Fox said Monday at the BIO International Convention, a four-day event expected to attract more than 20,000 researchers, investors, activists and others.

”But, hey, credit where credit is due – I couldn’t be happier about the recent advances. What comes to mind is antidepressants for dogs, which makes it a little easier for me because my dog is feeling better,” said Fox, who either put one hand in his pocket or gripped the podium to control visible symptoms of his disease.

Fox, 45, who starred on TV’s ”Family Ties” and ”Spin City” as well as the ”Back to the Future” films, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 and revealed his condition publicly in 1998.

In 2000, he quit full-time acting because of his symptoms and founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Last year, his foundation committed $7.5 million across seven grant programs to 16 companies, and the number is expected to grow this year.

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On the Net:

Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research: http://www.michaeljfox.org

The 2007 BIO International Convention: http://www.bio2007.org