Good WorksPassion Project

Battling for a Breakthrough

By Anh-Minh Le

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Meet the Atherton woman whose tireless efforts have raised millions toward finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Former sports marketing executive Mikey Hoag launched Part the Cloud seven years ago, quickly building support for a larger- than-expected community of people affected by Alzheimer’s. She’s raised millions for research, transforming a passion to do good into a bona fide movement. (Spencer Brown)

It was supposed to be a one-and-done event.

In 2012, when Mikey Hoag organized a gala for Part the Cloud (alz.org/partthecloud) — the nonprofit she founded to fund Alzheimer’s research — she envisioned it as a singular affair. She figured if she was lucky, she might raise $100,000, drawing on support from her family and friends. “The whole concept to me was a total bummer,” she recalls. “I thought, No one’s going to want to give up their Saturday night for Alzheimer’s. It sounds like you’re going to the old folks’ home.”

But then something remarkable happened: A sold-out crowd of 320 turned out at the Rosewood Sand Hill that evening, during which Tony Bennett performed pro bono, and $2 million was collected. Hoag realized that she couldn’t walk away from what she had started. In the years since, Part the Cloud has raised more than $30 million, all earmarked for early-phase trials, and has partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Research Program to fund 34 studies.

In alternating years, Part the Cloud has hosted a gala or a luncheon. Joan Baez performed at an after-party. Jimmy Buffet headlined another time. Marcia Gay Harden read from The Seasons of My Mother, the actress’ memoir about her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. Attendees have included a range of local luminaries, among them the philanthropic Dolby and Goldman families; venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and his wife Neeru; soccer superstar Brandy Chastain; former 49ers players Steve Young, Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott; and filmmaker Chris Columbus.

“I COULD SIT HERE AND WORRY AND FRET. BUT IF I GET IT, I WILL HAVE GONE DOWN FIGHTING.”

— Mikey Hoag, on being at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease

“Every time we’ve done an event, it sells out almost before the invitations drop,” says Hoag. “That’s telling me that there are so many people quietly going through this. There are no answers. There’s no drug. We’re all in that phase of: We’re taking care of our parents, but we also see it coming down the road. Here in California, especially in this area, I think we pride ourselves on exercising, eating right, and doing all the right things. But that’s not going to stop Alzheimer’s.”

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 6 million Americans are living with the disease, and it’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the country. Hoag is painfully familiar with Alzheimer’s. About 20 years ago, her father was diagnosed with it. With her parents living in New Jersey, where Hoag grew up, she needed to find a way to help from the Bay Area, where she and her husband, venture capitalist Jay, were raising three kids.

In 2006, Hoag’s father passed away, and five years later her mother was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “When you see your mom and your dad, who have taken care of you all of your life, just start to mentally go away, it is heartbreaking,” she says. “Because you know this is the last thing they’d ever want.”

An avid sports fan — one of the Hoags’ two yellow Labrador retrievers, Buster, is named for the San Francisco Giants catcher — and a former sports marketing exec, she breaks down her financial support of Alzheimer’s research in gridiron terms: “We’re the first 40 yards of a football field,” Hoag explains of the part of clinical trials that are considered phases I and II. “The researchers cannot get started unless they get money from Part the Cloud or some other place. Once they show success — proof of concept —the NIH will pick up the next 40 to 70 yards. And then the drug companies have to come in to cross the goal line.”

In 2016, the Part the Cloud Neuro inflammation Challenge was launched, resulting in four researchers awarded $1 million each to develop their proposals over two years. Earlier this year, the researcher who had progressed the furthest received an additional $3 million. In 2018, the Part the Cloud Challenge to RESCUE (REverse, reStore, Cease and UndErstand) Brain Cell Degeneration in Alzheimer’s was introduced. From a pool of global applicants, six were granted $1 million each.

Seven years on, Part the Cloud’s ongoing alliance with the Alzheimer’s Association has proven cathartic and motivating for Hoag. “I could sit here and worry and fret,” she says, acknowledging that she’s at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. “But if I get it, I will have gone down fighting.”

She continues: “The $30 million we have working right now in research has become $250 million in follow-up funding, mostly from the NIH. That gives me chills. If we can do one more trial, five more trials, ten more trials — we can make a difference. That’s what gets me going every single day and drives me to raise as much as I can.

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