April 26, 2011 / 6:53 PM / 9 years ago

Lilly, Medtronic team up on Parkinson's strategy

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co and device maker Medtronic Inc on Tuesday said they will test a drug for Parkinson’s disease that has intrigued researchers over the past decade but repeatedly failed in clinical trials.

The drug is a protein called GDNF (glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor) that the companies aim to deliver to the brain through a catheter connected to an implanted pump and drug reservoir supplied by Medtronic.

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, a progressive movement disorder believed to be caused by loss of neurons that produce the messenger chemical dopamine.

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.

Amgen Inc in 2004 stopped a 48-patient trial in which its own formulation of GDNF was delivered using Medtronic technology. The California-based biotechnology company said it halted the study due to a risk of irreversible brain damage and the absence of any demonstrated medical benefit.

“The technical hurdle has been to distribute the drug to cover the appropriate area of the brain,” said Ros Smith, senior director of regenerative biology at Lilly.

Smith said Lilly’s drug is a new formulation of GDNF that will be delivered by Medtronic’s improved programmable pump and catheter, and that it would take a number of years to conduct clinical trials.

In the meantime, she noted that other drugmakers were exploring their own various approaches to treat Parkinson’s disease with GDNF.

An estimated 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease, with about 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The disease causes motor problems such as trembling, limb rigidity and impaired balance that can eventually slow or freeze movement.

A variety of standard medicines, including levodopa, moderate symptoms for many patients, but symptoms tend to worsen over time.

Reporting by Ransdell Pierson, editing by Maureen Bavdek

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