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By Michael Fitzhugh

Eli Lilly (LLY) and the medical device giant Medtronic (MDT) are forming a research and development collaboration to tackle Parkinson's disease by delivering a targeted dose of an experimental medicine through an implantable drug delivery system. The companies hope this method will bypass barriers that have stymied other dementia therapies.

Delivering a large-molecule protein drug across the blood-brain barrier, an anatomical safeguard protecting the brain from foreign substances, is difficult. By working together from the earliest-stages, Lilly and Medtronic plan to create an implant capable of delivering a Lilly drug directly to the parts of the brain that could help counteract Parkinson's progression and head off its symptoms, such as balance problems, tremors and muscular stiffness.

Each partner will make contributions from their core expertise. Indianapolis-based Lilly will supply a custom-designed protein, a modified form of glial cell derived neurotrophic factor, that is intended to achieve increased distribution in targeted brain regions. Medtronic will contribute its drug pump and specially designed catheter to enable precise delivery of the glial cell derived neurotrophic factor variant into a targeted area of the brain consistently over time.

Financial details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

Minneapolis-based Medtronic has already made strides in reducing the symptoms of advanced Parkinson's with its Activa deep brain stimulation device, an implant that electrically stimulates the brain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the device in June 2009. A drug-device combination, however, may be able to move beyond mitigating symptoms of Parkinson's by impacting the neural degeneration that leads to worsening symptoms and progression of the disease.

Lilly last marketed its own therapy for Parkinson's disease, Permax, nearly five years ago as an adjunctive treatment to levodopa, a drug that stimulates the production of dopamine. But the company pulled it from the market in the United States and other countries in 2007 after it became clear that the product carried a risk of serious damage to patients’ heart valves.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition caused by progressive loss of neurons in the brain that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals that allow for coordination of movement. An estimated 7 million to 10 million people worldwide live with the disease.

While a potential treatment approach resulting from this research is many years away, we are heartened by Lilly and Medtronic's commitment to develop a neurotrophic-based therapy for Parkinson's disease,

says Katie Hood, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

Our foundation has funded separate, ongoing work in neurotrophic factors for years, and we continue to believe in their promise to lead to a critically needed disease-modifying treatment for Parkinson’s.

Disclosure: None

Source: Eli Lilly and Medtronic: Fighting Parkinson's From Within