The Michael J. Fox Foundation Remembers Patient Council Member Tom Picone

Thomas A. Picone, a founding member of The Michael J. Fox Foundation Patient Council and a leader in the pharmaceutical development field, passed away in October 2015.

When Tom received a Parkinson's diagnosis in 2006, like many, he was unsure about sharing it with others. But he realized that his experience could help advance critical connections in the drive for a cure. So he called MJFF Co-Founder and Executive Vice Chairman Deborah W. Brooks. Together, they revealed his diagnosis on stage at an industry conference with 700 colleagues, encouraging them to prioritize PD treatments and to remember patients and their loved ones as they went about this work.

Reflecting on his contributions, Deborah said, "Tom's experience as a patient coupled with his lifelong career in the pharmaceutical industry gave him a voice that resonated with many Parkinson's research stakeholders. He saw the possibility of our unique approach early on and he worked tirelessly to make sure that his industry colleagues and the PD community did too. That's why he made our mission a part of his career and then took on an ambassador role — to make sure that the search for a cure included partnership and empathy."

Throughout his professional and personal life, Tom promoted collaboration among the healthcare industry, researchers, patients and families. He held a PhD in biochemistry from University of Connecticut and rose to senior leadership in several pharmaceutical organizations. Before his retirement in 2009, he served as vice president of global strategic alliances at Schering Plough (now Merck & Co.). His guidance was instrumental to Merck becoming one of the first industry partners of Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), a landmark MJFF clinical study for the purpose of discovering and validating risk factors for Parkinson's disease (PD) launched in 2010.

As a member of the Patient Council, he lent his expertise to translating the successes, failures and challenges of developing new treatments with patients. The council recalled how Tom often spoke about how important it was to his life, so much so that he was packed and ready three days ahead of the previous meeting. Fellow council member Dr. Soania Mathur shared her remembrance of Tom:

"Tom was not only a dedicated part of our working group but was also a friend, one who had a way of making us all feel as though we were special to him. A consummate gentleman, he was kind and thoughtful, always available to support and listen, always with a kind smile.

He was a man of intelligence, understanding the science behind the challenges this disease presents and also the logistics involved in the drug development process. His input and experience were truly helpful in directing our discussions and giving us a perspective that perhaps we had not considered. Although he faced many obstacles this diagnosis brought his way, his dedication to the Parkinson's cause extended well beyond himself as he looked to our global community's needs for better treatments and ultimately a cure.

I started my journey into patient advocacy with Tom and the other original members of the patient council. I had hoped that someday soon we would celebrate together a future without this disease. Instead on that day I will raise my glass to toast Tom, to his passion and perseverance, to his dedication and commitment to all of us, his Parkinson's family."

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