Medtronic and Eli Lilly & Co. are collaborating to develop a Parkinson’s disease treatment that delivers an experimental medicine directly into the brain.
Lilly has already developed a protein called GDNF (glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor) known to preserve the function of neurons and Medtronic will provide a system that carries the medicine to a key area of the brain.
GDNF is a protein that potentially promotes survival of many types of nerve cells called neurons. Some researchers believe it offers the best hope yet of a treatment to slow or partially reverse Parkinson's disease. But GDNF's potential for treating Parkinson's disease has been unrealized because of difficulty adequately delivering it to a region of the brain where neurons that produce dopamine are located. Other companies have failed with numerous approaches to deliver the drug, including intranasally, with hopes it will protect dopamine neurons.
The treatment is in the earliest stages of development, and working together may provide the best chance of success, the companies said today in a statement. This collaboration can help breach the blood-brain barrier, one of the biggest obstacles for treating neurological conditions. While it protects the brain from infection, the barrier makes it difficult to get antibodies used to treat some conditions into the brain.
Stephen Oesterle, Medtronic’s senior vice president for medicine and technology, said, “We have to deliver it to the right area because proteins can’t cross the blood-brain barrier…We use a navigation system and an implantable pump that stores the biologic and continuously infuses it to mimic human biology.”
As many as 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative condition caused by the death of brain neurons that produce the chemical dopamine used to control movement. The result is muscle weakness, tremors, stiffness, loss of coordination and eventually death. Existing drugs, such as the medication Levodopa, ease symptoms. There is no cure.
According to Ros Smith, senior research director in regenerative biology at Indianapolis-based Lilly, their protein preserves the function of neurological cells that produce the dopamine missing in patients with Parkinson’s disease. “We are maximizing the potential for this therapy’s efficient and effective development,” said Michael Hutton, chief scientific officer of neurodegeneration at Lilly, maker of the antipsychotic therapy Zyprexa. We “are hopeful that early testing of our biologic with Medtronic’s device will provide the necessary data to safely advance into human studies.”
Medtronic rose 66 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $41.24 at 4:05 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Lilly gained 59 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $36.82.