Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) and Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) announced Tuesday that the companies are collaborating to find a new treatment for Parkinson's Disease.

The partnership aims to research and develop a new approach to treating the debilitating disease. The new approach involves delivering a potential new medicine to the brain using an implantable drug delivery system, according to a joint statement by the Fridley, Minnesota-based medical device maker and the Indianapolis, Indiana-based drugmaker. Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.

The collaboration will draw on each company's strengths: Medtronic's implantable drug infusion system technology, and Eli Lilly's strength inbiologic, a modified form of glial cell derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). GDNF is a small protein that promotes the survival of many types of neurons and is vital to their development and maintenance.

"We believe we have biosynthetically engineered this GDNF variant to overcome technical hurdles of previous research in this area and are hopeful that early testing of our biologic with Medtronic's device will provide the necessary data to safely advance into human studies," said Michael Hutton, chief scientific officer of the neurodegeneration team at Lilly, in a statement. "By collaborating with Medtronic from the earliest phase of research, we are maximizing the potential for this therapy's efficient and effective development."

When people are afflicted with Parkinson's, the progressive loss of neurons in the brain that produce dopamine causes balance problems, tremors and muscular stiffness, which worsen over time. Dopamine is a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals for movement coordination.

One of the challenges of treating neurodegenerative diseases using a biologic treatment is to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, said Steve Oesterle, senior vice president of Medicine and Technology at Medtronic, in the joint statement.

"We have extensive experience in targeted drug delivery and technology that allow delivery of therapeutic agents directly to the brain," Oesterle noted of the company, which makes new innovative medical devices.

The companies' joint statement also contained cautious optimism from Katie Hood, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

"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," Hood said.

As many as1 million Americans live with Parkinson's disease, while the number of patients worldwide is estimated to be 7 million to 10 million, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation Inc.

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