Book Deborah Brooks

Deborah W. Brooks is co-founder of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson?s Research (MJFF).

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Deborah Brooks Bio

Benjamin Franklin said if you don’t watch your workers, you might as well leave a bag of money in their midst and walk away. Applying this principle of oversight to a group of scientists from esteemed institutions can be quite disruptive, according to Debi Brooks, co-founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) for Parkinson’s Disease (PD).Brooks has spent the past eight years as a “strategic intermediary” between science and business in an urgent effort to find a cure for PD. “Medical research funding is a shockingly unmonitored process,” says Brooks. “Scientists at the National Institute of Health don’t think you can press other scientists into results. It’s a gentleman’s game.”In the meantime, the one million people in this country who have PD wait for a cure. Since its creation in 2000, MJFF has funded $120 million in research on a disease that will take a billion dollars to cure. Pace is crucial. The foundation uses an accelerated grant system that makes award decisions within two months of receiving research proposals. The length of the awards is usually two years, and researchers are required to meet with the foundation at the midway point to report on their progress. Scientists initially balked at this requirement, but they began to see the benefit of sharing their work with peers and getting constructive feedback while their work was in progress.“We did it to get a better understanding of the productivity of our capital,” Brooks says. “It was a disruptive approach, but it’s worked.”Holding scientists accountable for the money invested in their research was one way that Brooks has created a new model for what she calls the “broken” enterprise of medical research. In a system that links government to the capital market, and where no one is in charge of a cure, normal business principles become lost in a morass of bureaucracy.“We have a poorly assembled process for taking a discovery all the way to the drugstore,” Brooks says.The federal government awards grants to scientists based on a numerical scoring system that rates research proposals based on the quality of their design. There is no lens for prioritization, Brooks explains. Scientists then take their money back to their academic institutions and conduct research. Brooks calls these scientists “siloed problem-solvers” whose results are typically squirreled away. The financial risks of academic research are low; after grants are awarded, the government steps out of the process and assumes that science will take its course. It doesn’t, according to Brooks.Contact a speaker booking agent to check availability on Deborah Brooks and other top speakers and celebrities.

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