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Michael J. Fox performing Johnny B. Goode at his foundation's annual gala. Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Image

Last night I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael J. Fox and Debi Brooks, a former Goldman Sachs banker and co-founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, at a private J.P. Morgan event in California.

Bottom line: It was intensely inspiring, no matter how cliche that may sound nor how jaded any of us in the room typically are.

One reason is that Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease back in 1991, makes such appearances despite his obvious physical challenges, but also that he does so more out of optimism than obligation. When I asked him during dinner if he dreads this sort of thing, he gave me a look that said both: I've been asked this before, and I still don't really understand the question.

Second, the Fox Foundation, which now has raised around $750 million since its 2000 founding, is disruptive in a way that particularly appeals to those who spend their professional lives around technology founders. It has partnered directly with pharma companies without asking for equity in return (that may not sound unusual, but it really is). For example, it played an integral role in the creation of Denali Therapeutics, which is expected to go public this week, but isn't on the cap table. Its early grants came within weeks of application, not months. It has no endowment, nor does it want one. Money goes out almost as soon as it comes in, with a sincere goal of putting itself out of business. A few Fox quotes from our on-stage conversation:

  • "It's not a nebulous cloud of doom that hangs over my head. It's a set of challenges and there are rewards in meeting those challenges.... When I go see a doctor there's no question who the expert is. I'm the expert, because I'm living it."
  • "As I learned in school, biology is hard."
  • "When we started the Foundation it was how can we solve this problem... I had a lot of friends in hedge funds and on Wall Street and I thought I need some of these guys. We approached it like a startup."
  • "I like to play guitar, and everyone wants to hear a medley of my hit," he said, when asked why he tries to perform Johnny B. Goode each year at his Foundation's annual gala.
  • "I recently did an interview with Jane Pauley and I was in tears when I left the patient roundtable portion of the segment. Because it reminded me how much they mean to me. A 34 year-old mother of three in the suburbs and who doesn't have access to the same things I have access to, but she has the same experiences. We don't want anything ridiculous – we just want a cure."

Go deeper

6 hours ago - Health

Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.

8 hours ago - Health

AstraZeneca CEO: "We need to do an additional study" on COVID vaccine

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday the company is likely to start a new global trial to measure how effective its coronavirus vaccine is, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Following Phase 3 trials, Oxford and AstraZeneca said their vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.

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