I’m thrilled to receive a press release that my alma mater has named a new president. What does this have to do with a blog about Parkinson’s Disease? Well, my alma mater, Stanford University, is a major powerhouse in medical research of all kinds, including Parkinson’s. And the new president (effective September 1) will be Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a pioneering neuroscientist. His research has focused on the cause and treatment of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as on therapies for spinal cord injuries.
My gut tells me this can only be a good thing for increasing research in neuroscience. Let’s face it — a university president’s main function is to raise money. Tessier-Lavigne will of course be raising money for all sorts of needs, from student aid to violin instructors, but I have to think he will continue to be successful in funding more scientific research, especially neuroscience.
His record speaks well for being attuned to the business side of medical research. In 2003, he took leave of absence from his Stanford professor post to work for Genentech, Inc., a biotech powerhouse. At Genentech, Tessier-Lavigne was (among other roles) chief scientific officer, overseeing 1,400 scientists focusing on disease research and drug discovery for cancer, immune disorders, infectious diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.
For the last five years, Tessier-Lavigne has held a perfect job to prepare for being a university president at Stanford — being a university president somewhere else — back east at Rockefeller University. The part that caught my eye about his experience there was “His fundraising success resulted in launching a nearly $1 billion capital campaign…” Yep, this is a “show me the money” guy.
I also liked this part of Stanford’s press release: “Nationally and internationally, Tessier-Lavigne has been a tireless advocate for societal support of science, including testifying before Congress on the need for federal funding of research. He has been a champion of growing the New York bioscience community, partnering with other academic medical institutions to help establish the New York Genome Center and working with the New York City government and private sector to stimulate biomedical industry development.”
But I’ve saved the most impressive money-raising experience for last. Way down in the press release is a brief mention that Tessier-Lavigne co-founded a startup named Denali Theraputics whose objective is to research drug therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. After some Internet research, I found that Denali started in May 2015 with a mind-boggling $217 million, raised from what one article describes as ” A-list biotech investors”. The company has been mum about what it’s working on, but its CEO, Ryan Watts, indicated in September 2015 that the company is developing about a dozen potential candidates, focusing on intracellular trafficking pathways, inflammation, axon degeneration and synapse elimination, among other areas. “There are many targets to harvest now,” Watts said, and Denali has identified four of those programs as core assets.
So, bring on the money! More money for research gets us closer to cures!