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Winter 2005 CalBusiness  
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Callaborative Approach Speeds Way to MS Cure

By Carol Menaker

After 25 years and three startup companies, Scott Johnson, MBA 81, is consumed with his fourth and, he will tell you, most important startup venture yet: his nonprofit medical research foundation committed to accelerating the drug discovery process for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF).

Though MRF certainly accommodates Johnson's interest in building new organizations in new ways, it also incorporates his own personal journey as someone living with MS. Johnson has been living with the random symptoms of MS since he was first diagnosed with the disease at the age of 20.

"In the last 50 years, there have been hundreds of millions of research dollars spent on investigating cures for MS," says Johnson. "I think most scientists would agree that a cure is still at least 30 more years away. What I uncovered as I studied the science was that for some reason certain research breakthroughs that might improve the quality of life for those living with MS were being overlooked or underfunded."

Johnson believed that if he could create a new model for medical research that would combine traditional academic research methods with well-understood business management tools, the process of moving treatments from the research bench to clinical trials could be greatly accelerated.

Johnson devised an unorthodox collaborative research program in which five of the world's leading neuroscientists who study myelin, the sheath covering nerves in the brain and spinal cord, join forces to tackle the problem. There's one overriding rule: To get the funding they must agree to execute a jointly-developed research plan and to share even their preliminary findings with one another in real time. The scientists believe that by avoiding the delays common in the traditional publications-driven research model, the time to drug discovery could be reduced by as much as 75%.

"Our goal is to have these drugs in clinical trials within five years," says Johnson. "Once we do that, I'll be ready to move on."

For more about the MRF, see http://www.myelinrepair.org.

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Scott Johnson, MBA 81

Scott Johnson, MBA 81
President and Founder
Myelin Repair Foundation
Saratoga, CA

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