Genentech’s shares have leapt on clinical data, which show that Lucentis (ranibizumab), the firm’s treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration improves vision.

In a Phase III clinical study, approximately 95% of the 716 patients involved maintained or improved vision (defined as a loss of less than 15 letters in visual acuity) at one year when treated with Lucentis injections, compared to 62% of those in the control arm of the trial. The US biotechnology giant’s chief medical officer Hal Barron also noted that the Lucentis data “exceeded our expectations because they show, for the first time in a Phase III trial, a statistically significant improvement in vision for patients in a disease that has remained chronic and progressive despite current treatment options.”

The AMD market is considerable and Genentech says it affects 1.2 million Americans, most of whom are over 50. And news of the study had a devastating effect on the share price of fellow US firm Eyetech Pharmaceuticals which, with Pfizer, sells the ophthalmic drug Macugen (pegaptanib), that was recently approved by US Food and Drug Administration for AMD [[20/12/04f]]. Approval for the latter drug in Brazil not surprisingly did nothing to stop almost a 50% share price slide at Eyetech, but the company and Pfizer issued a statement, saying that data must be interpreted based on similar patient demographics and the Lucentis and Macugen trials involved different patient populations and different protocols. Eyetech is holding a conference call tomorrow to reiterate its confidence in Macugen.

Nevertheless, Genentech stocks rose as did the shares at Novartis, which will sell the drug outside North America. Fellow Swiss firm Roche is also likely to benefit, said analysts at Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch and Smith Barney, noting Roche’s majority stake in Genentech. However, Brigitte Kulhoff of Bank Sal Oppenheim said that the impact of Lucentis on Novartis is hard to judge, as more data is needed to judge whether Lucentis will either cannibalise, be used in combination with, or treat a different patient group than its own eye disease therapy Visudyne (verteporfin), which is marketed with QLT.