Special Assignment

Wisconsin deeply engaged in Michael J. Fox Parkinson's effort

CREATED Nov 7, 2013 - UPDATED: Nov 7, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - With his new sitcom on NBC, Michael J. Fox is making television audiences laugh while shining the spotlight on a very serious disease.

"Could I get you to sign an autograph," a police officer says to Fox's character in the first episode.  "My uncle's got Alzheimer's."
"I've actually got Parkinson's," Fox responds.
George Prescott of Washington County counts Fox as a friend.  He is also living with Parkinson's Disease.  
"You don't have to submit to it," Prescott told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray.  "You don't have to give up."
Prescott, an investor and philanthropist, sold his Wisconsin grocery store chain a decade ago after his diagnosis.  He donated more than a million dollars to The Michael J. Fox Foundation.
George and his daughter Cheryl are deeply engaged in the mission to find a cure.  There is no cure for the disorder that attacks the nervous system and - over time - robs a person of their ability talk, walk and even move.
"There are many more drugs in the pipeline and in development phases now than there was before Michael J. Fox," Cheryl Prescott said.
George hosted a premiere party for The Michael J. Fox Show at his lakeside home near West Bend.
"We've worked hard," George said.  "We've saved.  You realize your health might be more important than your wealth."
The philosophy of the sitcom star's foundation is to get money to high-risk, high-reward researchers.  The New York-based non-profit granted nearly $300,000 to Promentis Pharmaceuticals, a company homegrown in Milwaukee.
"This company has some unique chemicals that we think may eventually be drugs that have the potential to slow the loss of brain cells that occur in Parkinson's Disease," said Mark Frasier, research vice president of the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Promentis means 'betterment of the mind'.
Former big pharmaceutical executive Chad Beyer is now president and CEO of the small medical start-up.
"It's in your own backyard," Beyer said during an interview in the Promentis office suite on N. Plakington Avenue.  "You don't know which biology is going to work or which target or system is going to be useful for certain patients.  More money allows you to answer those questions sooner."
Lab tests are underway at Marquette University.  Associate professor and Promentis co-founder David Baker made a discovery that could lead to a new therapy.  
"We really have to check every lead," Baker said.  "It will be a Eureka moment when, all of a sudden, we'll have an incredibly effective therapeutic."
Researchers acknowledge that promising leads sometimes result in dead ends.
"Yes.  It's possible," Beyer said.  "That's one of the risks."
This money and research is aimed at solving a great human brain mystery.  The brain is one of the most complex things in the universe.
"Your life doesn't end when you get Parkinson's," George Prescott said.  "In fact, in Michael's case, he would say that's when it kind of began."
George previously served as chairman of The Michael J. Fox Foundation and remains active with the organization.