Since its inception, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) has deployed a ‘de-risking’ research strategy to drive forward the development of new Parkinson’s disease treatments. The strategy is built around the core idea that developing even a single new treatment entails a significant level of risk for any company, due to the numerous ways that this new treatment could fall short of actually making it into the hands of the patients who need it.

Making Programmes More Attractive

In a recent podcast, the vice president of Research Engagement at MJFF, Maggie Kuhl, spoke about how some of the programmes that the foundation has previously supported have been acquired by bigger partners, partly as a result of the de-risking model, which serves to make these programmes more attractive to investors with the means to move them forward.

Joining the discussion, Brian Friske, the foundation’s co-chief scientific officer, pointed out that gaining an understanding of the underlying biology of the disease has been a key element of the de-risking process, as has the ability to target this biology with a treatment. This means, for example, ascertaining whether the area of the brain can be accessed and treated safely. Ultimately, a de-risking strategy is about what the organisation can do to de-risk the science, the treatments themselves and the measurement tools needed to assess the relevant treatments.

Success Stories

MJFF, of which Professor of Neurology Marios Politis is a long-time collaborator, has several recent de-risking success stories. These includes a partnership (ongoing since 2009) with the company Mitokinin, which the foundation has supported with research grants. These grants allowed Mitokinin to address the mitochondrial disfunction inherent in Parkinson’s Disease by developing a functional approach. This de-risking investment finally paid off in October 2023 when the company Abbvie announced its acquisition of Mitokinin.

The foundation has also supported the company Cerevel, which has focused on a specific genetic target which is associated with an increased risk (20-25%) of developing Parkinson’s disease. The company aimed to develop activators for this target to create a disease-modifying treatment. MJFF awarded approximately $1.2 million to Cerevel as part of de-risking its work. Showcasing its findings at the 15th Annual Parkinson’s Disease Therapeutics Conference in October 2023, Cerevel caught the attention of a variety of stakeholders and experts in the field, and Abbvie subsequently announced its acquisition of the company in December of the same year.

For more information about the work of the MJFF, take a look at the embedded PDF.