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Thursday, May 17, 2007

At least my dog feels better about it: Michael J. Fox as patient advocate

Swaying from the unrelenting progression of Parkinson's disease, actor and patient advocate Michael J. Fox challenged the biotechnology industry Monday at its massive annual convention: "Who's funding innovation today?” Michael, who began a foundation to fund research into therapies for Parkinson's, criticized the industry for not placing enough emphasis on risk taking that he said could lead to therapies for 20,000 of the world's 30,000 identified diseases.

Not enough emphasis is being placed on the importance of translating basic scientific discoveries into new therapies, he said. For instance, the drug he takes is 40 years old. But the industry recently turned out a new antidepressant for dogs. My symptoms may not be getting better, but at least my dog feels better about it," he joked.

While patient advocates have always lobbied the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, Fox is emblematic of the greater voice and role they now hold. In the face of stagnant federal funding for basic scientific research, patient advocacy groups such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation are pouring millions of dollars into research through grants. "It's about spending the money more effectively," he said. He suggested the industry rethink its definition of success and focus less on capital return and getting on the cover of Science or Nature magazines - and instead judge success by the effect on patients' lives.

His words carried extra clout because his foundation gave $7.5 million through seven grant programs to 16 companies. His foundation aims to spend the money in the best possible way: helping take away some of the barriers or risks that prevent promising discoveries from moving down the long and expensive pipeline to commercial products.

Michael is putting his money where his heart is. He is leveraging his celebrity and his money to find a cure. His energy, commitment and imaginative steps toward this goal make him a patient advocate hero.

Advice: Look for ways you can use your assets and skills as an effective patient advocate. Be Like Mike.

Read another of our patient advocate hero stories, or Terri Somers’ source story.

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