The Google Fortune Behind the Michael J. Fox Foundation

This week the Michael J. Fox Foundation announced a $2 million pledge to test Alzheimer’s drug SYN120 on Parkinson’s patients suffering from dementia. The trial will be undertaken by the Parkinson Study Group at ten sites specializing in the cognitive aspects of Parkinson’s disease around the United States; the drug is manufactured by Finland company Biotie Therapies.

While Michael J. Fox himself deserves a lot of credit for bringing Parkinson’s disease into the public eye since his 1991 diagnosis and establishing his eponymous foundation in 2000, Fox owes a lot of credit to his underwriters. His "men behind the curtain," if you will.

And these are none other than Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki. Together, they’re number five on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Most Generous Donors list. They went from number 25 to number 5 over the course of a single year, due in no small part to their staggering generosity to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

They’ve put up over $160 million for Parkinson’s research in just the past three years, and much of that, including $53 million for a matching gift, went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Perhaps they like the MJFF’s aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach to Parkinson’s research. Or perhaps they just like the celebrity association. Regardless, the foundation is clearly one of their favorite beneficiaries.

And, as is the case with so many of these super-generous “big money” types, the inspiration is personal. Brin has a long family history with the affliction—first, his great aunt got it, and then his mother followed—and in 2008, Brin discovered that he, too, carries the gene mutation that gives him a 50 percent chance of developing Parkinson’s before he turns 70 years old.

So while his clock ticks, Brin and Wojcicki are trying to work their way out of the box that is a Parkinson’s diagnosis just as fast as they can. Maybe by the time Brin reaches middle age, Parkinson’s disease won’t be the kind of step toward doom that it is today.