UCB and partner Immunomedics have presented positive results from a mid-stage stage for their investigational lupus drug epratuzumab.

Data from the Phase IIb study comparing epratuzumab to placebo in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus demonstrated “clinical meaningful treatment effect” for the drug which UCB licensed from the US firm in May 2006. The 227 patients in the study had moderately (30%) to severely (70%) active disease in multiple organ systems and the firms said that the treatment advantage of epratuzumab over placebo reached 24.9% at week 12.

UCB chief executive Roch Doliveux noted that epratuzumab is the most advanced pipeline programme in the firm’s immunology disease portfolio “and the positive results are significant…as we continue to move our antibody-based programmes ahead".

He added that the drug, a humanised anti-CD22 monoclonal antibody with the potential to modulate B cell activity, may provide new hope for the hundreds of thousands of people living with SLE “as no new treatment has been approved for this life altering disease for over five decades”. UCB added that an in-depth analysis of the data is ongoing in preparation of a Phase III programme.

These are still early days for the drug and analysts are maintaining a cautious stance until late-stage data becomes available. However lupus is an area that is causing much excitement as seen by the market’s response to the positive Phase III data unveiled by GlaxoSmithKline and Human Genome Sciences for Benlysta (belimumab).

Investors seem impressed, however, and UCB’s shares were up 2% at 10am this morning (UK time) at just under 27 euros apiece.