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Exclusive: Billionaire Ken Griffin to Fund $10 Million Parkinson’s Competition With Michael J. Fox Foundation

September 23, 2019, 1:05 PM UTC

Ken Griffin, the billionaire founder and CEO of investment firm Citadel, is teaming up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) to fund a new $10 million Parkinson’s research program, Fortune has learned. The program will be structured as a competition dubbed the Ken Griffin Alpha-synuclein Imaging Competition and will largely be funded by an initial $7.5 million leadership gift from Griffin.

MJFF co-founder and executive vice chairman Deborah Brooks explained the basis for the program in a phone interview with Fortune. “We have more than 100,000 donors at the Fox Foundation, and our median gift is $50,” she said. “But we strive to connect with people who may have a particular interest in our work and may be interested in donating on a more philanthropic level.”

Enter Griffin. Eventually, the competition—which seeks to create what MJFF calls a groudbreaking imaging tool “to visualize the key protein alpha-synuclein,” clumps of which are found in nearly all Parkinson’s patients, in the living brain—will provide $8.5 million in funding to as many as three winning research teams, with the team that makes the most progress in two years or less eligible for another $1.5 million.

The Citadel chief is no stranger to philanthropy. But the foray into Parkinson’s research presents an expansion of sorts.

“For years, I’ve supported philanthropic efforts in the arts and education. We are now broadening our focus to include medicine,” Griffin told Fortune in a phone interview.

Griffin also has personal experience with Parkinson’s—his father was diagnosed with the disease several years ago.

What makes this particular imaging project so unique is that, currently, the telltale alpha-synuclein clumps can only be seen after a patient has died. Being able to identify the clusters in real-time in a living brain could help spur targeted drug development and better disease monitoring methods.

“If we have the imaging capability to observe the pathology that arises from protein-misfolding in real time, and understand how drugs are impacting people in real time, that would be a major advance,” explained Griffin.

“Providing researchers and clinicians with the ability to detect and monitor disease would be revolutionary for the field and, most importantly, for patients,” said MJFF CEO Todd Sherer in a statement. “Ken Griffin’s gift invigorates research toward this important tool, which will make a meaningful impact in the lives of everyone touched by Parkinson’s.”