Roche looks like it could have another candidate for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in its portfolio after positive results in a Phase II study.

The MAHALO trial of lampalizumab showed that patients with the dry form of AMD experienced a 20% reduction in geographic atrophy (GA), where cells in the epithelial lining of the retina start to degenerate with a knock-on effect on rod and cone cells, after 18 months' treatment.

GA is an advanced form of AMD which irreversibly progresses to blindness and has no approved treatments, according to Roche.

In a subset of patients that were identified as being prone to faster decline using biomarkers, the GA progression rate was decreased by 44%  at 18 months with a monthly injection of the drug into the eye, with better results (a 54% decline) in those whose vision was less impaired at enrolment.

There was no effect of dosing every other month in the overall treatment group, according to the study results which were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Retina Specialists in Toronto, Canada.

Roche already has a big-selling product in its portfolio for the wet form of AMD called Lucentis (ranibizumab), which it sells in the US while Novartis has marketing rights elsewhere in the world.

Lucentis added 820 million Swiss francs ($893m) to Roche's coffers in the first half of the year, but it is anticipated that lampalizumab could have even greater potential given that the dry form of AMD accounts for around 85 per cent of all cases and affects some eight million people worldwide.

Lampalizumab is a humanised monoclonal antibody targetting complement Factor D (CFD) that was originally developed by Tanox, which was acquired by Roche's Genentech unit in 2007. It works in a different way to Lucentis which is a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) blocker.

"The phase II results are encouraging for patients with geographic atrophy, a major vision-impairing disease where there is a great need for treatment options," said Richard Scheller, the head of Genentech Research and Early Development.

"We are continuing to investigate our emerging biomarker strategy to identify people who would be appropriate candidates for treatment with lampalizumab," he added.