Google's Brin makes strides in hunt for Parkinson's cure
Sergey Brin, the 38-year-old co- founder of Google Inc. (GOOG), is making strides in his quest to find a cure for Parkinson's, a progressive disease his DNA and family history suggest may
afflict him as early as 10 years from now.
The advances are encouraging Pfizer Inc. (PFE) and GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) to pursue a new class of medicines that may become the first to slow the progress of Parkinson's disease in a unique collaboration that Brin is funding, Bloomberg reports.
Brin, who began donating to Parkinson's research in 2005, accelerated that giving after he learned in 2008 he has a flawed gene that presents him with a 50 percent chance of getting the disease by age 70. So far Brin has donated $132 million, mostly through the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, to help create a DNA database of 7,000 patients and to support work on the first targeted treatments that aim at the genetic causes of the movement disorder.
"If I felt it was guaranteed to cure Parkinson's disease a check for a billion dollars would be the easiest one I have written," he said in an interview. "Pretty much everybody in the world has or will have some serious condition. How much is it worth to you to have that condition be potentially curable?"
Among the recipients of Brin's largess is the company his wife, Anne Wojcicki, started to create a database of genetic information and which found that Brin had the Parkinson's gene.
Depression and Dementia
While existing Parkinson's medicines help with symptoms, they don't slow the progression of the disease, in which brain cells involved in coordinating movement die off, leading to tremors, stiffness, slowness, difficulty speaking, depression and dementia.
Parkinson's afflicts about 1 million people in the U.S., and 1 in 100 people over age 60. It was first described in an 1817 essay by the British surgeon James Parkinson about six patients with a "shaking palsy." A 2009 study estimated the disease costs Americans $10.8 billion a year, including $6.22 billion in medical costs such as drug treatments and nursing home care, and $4.56 billion more in lost wages and other indirect costs.
"As of today there's nothing specific that Sergey can do about it, but that doesn't mean he can't try to drive change, which we're doing," said Wojcicki, co-founder and chief executive of closely held personal genomics company 23andMe Inc., in an interview.
Brin's mother, Eugenia, a former computer scientist at NASA, first began to suffer symptoms in 1997 at age 49. A genetic test developed by 23andMe showed Brin and his mother have the Parkinson's gene. Brin's funding efforts through the Fox Foundation are studying specific blocking mechanisms that may offer the first real treatment to slow the disease.
"I was very surprised" to get the result in 2008, Brin said. "I wasn't alarmed. I felt empowered. I felt I could invest in the research," said Brin, who has a net worth of about $19 billion.
Brin and Wojcicki "have been hugely helpful," said Michael J. Fox, the actor who started his eponymous foundation in 2000, nine years after developing Parkinson's disease.
"People of their profile, who are smart and savvy, when they get involved in such a big way it encourages scientists to take it seriously and it encourages industry to take it seriously," Fox said in a telephone interview.
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