Medtronic Wants Drug Industry Partners for Alzheimer’s

Medtronic Inc. is seeking pharmaceutical industry partners to couple the company’s pump technology with Alzheimer’s medicines that may be more effective if pushed directly into the brain.

“We have proof of concept and we’re looking for partners,” said Lisa Shafer, director of CNS Drug Delivery at Minneapolis-based Medtronic, in a telephone interview.

Less than 1 percent of the intravenous drugs are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, a natural layer of protection in the vessels within the organ, Shafer said in a telephone interview. A product that can deliver drugs straight into the brain can yield higher and broader concentrations using 10-fold to 100-fold less medication, she said.

Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly & Co. are developing medication designed to cut the development of beta amyloid proteins in the brain. The push into Alzheimer’s would expand the scope of Medtronic technology that’s been used for two decades to treat pain and spasticity, Shafer said. The company last year announced a partnership with Lilly on a Parkinson’s treatment, she said.

Medtronic fell less than 1 percent to $42.87 at the close of New York trading. The shares have gained 22 percent in the past 12 months.

The company has developed its own anti-amyloid medication to use in preclinical and animal testing, though it would prefer to collaborate with a pharmaceutical partner skilling Alzheimer’s research, Shafer said.

Bypassing Barrier

“We’re pushing into the fluid surrounding the brain, which bathes all the brain tissue, bypassing the blood-brain barrier,” Shafer said. The approach avoids the blood vessels, which can come under stress from the active antibodies, and can develop a problem with leakage.

The technology isn’t one-size-fits-all, Shafer said. Some patients, perhaps those with a genetic predisposition for forming more amyloid plaque earlier in the disease, may need a larger, more frequent drug doses. Other medications could also be incorporated, including drugs to treat tau, the tangles that develop in the brain, or anti-inflammatory therapies, she said.

“There are other shots on goal, other portions of the pathological cascade” where drug therapy may help, Shafer said. “We believe all of this will need to be optimized.”

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