Actor and philanthropist Michael J. Fox won this year’s Elevate Catalyst Award, which the “Back to the Future” star plans to use to continue his foundation’s work finding treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29 in 1991, received the award at the Clinton Global Initiative, or CGI, conference Tuesday in New York. The annual prize, awarded last year to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, includes $250,000 from the Elevate Prize Foundation and support to amplify the laureate’s message.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who interviewed Fox on stage at CGI, credited him with research advances in understanding Parkinson’s disease. “I don’t think this work would have progressed as much if Michael hadn’t been so open,” she said.
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Fox said once he gained support from his family after his diagnosis, he didn’t hesitate to go public with his diagnosis.
“There is such shame associated with this disease,” Fox said. “It’s so ridiculous, this great need to keep it a secret. The cruelest thing is that it will end up revealing you.”
However, he said there was no choice but to “keep trying to move things forward, whether it’s world peace, climate change or this disease.”
Former President Bill Clinton said he was “amazed” by Fox. “I’ve known Michael J. Fox for a long time and he seems better every time I see him,” he said. “He is a courageous and good man.”
Joseph Deitch, founder of the Elevate Prize Foundation, called Fox a “lightning rod for good” when presenting him with the prize.
“He’s an icon,” Carolina García Jayaram, CEO of the Elevate Prize Foundation, told The Associated Press in an interview. “He was able to use the power of his story to introduce so many people to what this disease was and make us aware of it.”
Garcia Jayaram said Fox embodies this year’s CGI theme, “Keep Going,” and was “the perfect person at the perfect time” because the more than $2 billion the Fox foundation has raised for research since its launch in 2000 have made a major difference in understanding. of the disease.
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“I simply can’t think of a better person to inspire us all to meet our challenges with such endurance, honesty and vulnerability,” Garcia Jayaram said. “It’s scary to be so vulnerable and share something so personal with you and your family – especially in his case when his job was to be a public figure. He did it anyway. Nothing will stop him.”
Deborah Brooks, co-founder and CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, said the award comes at an important time for the nonprofit. In April, a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease was identified for the first time, a “seismic shift” that will help improve the chances of creating treatments and tests that can detect the disease in living patients.
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“We’re thrilled that this type of recognition will help us continue to move forward at what feels like a bit of a breakneck pace in terms of progress on some of the most exciting things happening in neuroscience right now,” Brooks said. .
New developments will require hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in research, as well as more volunteers for testing, Brooks said. However, Fox plans to use the award to increase its profile and raise awareness of how people can help.
“Patients and their families want to be part of the solution they are looking for,” Brooks said, adding that the foundation created Fox Trial Finder, which helps connect patients to potential testing programs. “A lot of times they have no idea how that manifests, and so that’s always been part of our message.”