The Work of Silicon Valley Fundraisers Has Caught the Attention of Not Just Local Benefactors, but Also Philanthropists Around the World—including Bill Gates
Part the cloud.
It all started eight years ago when Michaela “Mikey” Hoag lost her father to Alzheimer’s disease and saw her mother showing early signs. Hoag decided to take action. But true to her Silicon Valley nature, she didn’t want to just write a check and walk away. She wanted to laser focus in on funding early-stage research—research with the highest probability of slowing, stopping, or ultimately curing Alzheimer’s disease.
To that end, Hoag gathered a core group of passionate volunteers whose lives had also been touched by Alzheimer’s and launched Part the Cloud, a series of annual events aimed at fundraising on a grand scale. She notes, “I have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from so many, which has allowed us to grow from a local Bay Area event into a global movement, funding 39 clinical trials across the globe.”
Former Part the Cloud Chair Debbie Robbins adds, “Part the Cloud grants address a critical gap in funding for early, high-risk, high-reward research.Drug development is a very long road. Clinical trials needed to support safety, and ultimately FDA approval of a drug is expensive. If a trial fails, capital invested is lost. Therefore, most grants support middle- and later-stage trials, and there are few sources that support the essential early-phase studies that Part the Cloud funds.”
Part the Cloud Founder Michaela “Mikey” Hoag photographed on location at the new Stanford CHEM-H and Stanford Neurosciences building. | Portrait by Anastasia Blackman
Hoag continues, “Part the Cloud not only provides key funding for early-phase clinical trials, but we also serve as a catalyst in helping researchers receive additional funding for their work. After receiving initial funding from PTC, grant recipients have gone on to receive over $259 million in follow-up funding from the NIH, NIA, and venture capital.”
Director of the University of Arizona Center for Innovation in Brain Science Dr. Roberta Diaz Brinton and her lab have benefitted from Part the Cloud’s strategic funding initiatives. Brinton, considered a leading neuroscientist in the field of Alzheimer’s, the aging female brain, and regenerative therapeutics, became interested in studying Alzheimer’s over 30 years ago while she was a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology in New York.
Brinton recalls, “I had the opportunity to work with an Alzheimer’s patient and take daily walks with her down the long esplanade on campus. She was a fascinating woman who would relate stories of her career at Columbia and Dartmouth. I would walk her back to her room, say, ‘Good night,’ and wait 30 seconds. I would then ask, ‘Do you remember me?’ She would reply, ‘Should I?’ It was an experience that would change the trajectory of Brinton’s life. “I realized that the patient’s brain never encoded me. I simply never existed to her, yet my memory of her has spurred my research for decades.”
Above: Part the Cloud Committee Members Heather Pietsch and Stephanie Harman | Photo by Anastasia Blackman
Brinton’s work advancing Allopregnanolone as a regenerative therapeutic for Alzheimer’s was one of 45 proposals from two countries submitted to Part the Cloud’s grant challenge for RESCUE (REverse, reStore, Cease, and UndErstand) and Neurodegeneration. Six researchers of the 45 were awarded million-dollar two-year grants. Allopregnanolone, or simply Allo, as Brinton refers to it, has gone through the pre-clinical trial stage and Phase 1 Stage with promising results. “The challenge,” cites Brinton, “is that the administration of Allo has been through IV infusion. That’s not sustainable for patients at home or in a care facility. Our focus is developing a bridge from the IV study to a more easily administered inter-muscular injection. Part the Cloud’s support has been key to this work.”
The exciting work of researchers like Dr. Brinton, and Part the Cloud’s overarching efforts, galvanized Bill Gates to join the movement. Gates’ passion for health-related causes is no secret. Most recently he’s donated $150 million toward the fight of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). And as of Friday, March 13, he stepped down from the board of Microsoft Corporation to devote his full attention to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is playing a key role in global health initiatives and expanding into new areas like climate change.
Since 2012, Part the Cloud has raised $30 million for Alzheimer’s research. The Gates/Part the Cloud partnership has doubled that number in 2020. Gates has personally funded a $10 million award, while the Alzheimer’s Association, working through Part the Cloud, has raised $20 million. The Gates/Part the Cloud partnership will accelerate research exploring specific areas of neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation, and immune responses that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia, including: how brain cells use energy and fuel (mitochondria, bioenergetics, and metabolism); how brain cells remove waste and debris to avoid protein clumping (autophagy); and how blood supply in the brain is maintained (vascular).
Gates relates, “Like millions of others, I have witnessed the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease firsthand. Finding a treatment or cure is an enormous scientific challenge that needs increased and continued research investments. The Alzheimer’s Association/Part the Cloud program is impressive and accelerating early clinical phases of drug development to slow, stop, and ultimately cure the disease.”
—The milestone achievements of Part the Cloud were to be celebrated this month at an evening event in Woodside. Those plans have been postponed. Hoag and the Part the Cloud committee look forward to returning with an event in 2021