Eye Drug Shows Promise, Genentech Says

Times Staff Writer

Genentech Inc.'s hot streak continued Monday when the company said an experimental drug improved the vision of patients with a form of age-related macular degeneration in a large clinical trial.

The South San Francisco-based company said that, on average, patients who received Lucentis had a “significant improvement” in their vision after one year. No other drug has been shown to improve vision in patients with the “wet” form of age-related macular degeneration, Genentech said.

That form is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the eye. Affecting 1.2 million Americans, it is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

Hal Barron, Genentech’s chief medical officer, said the results of the 716-patient trial were exciting and exceeded the company’s expectations. Genentech planned to discuss the results with the Food and Drug Administration, he said. The clinical trial is continuing for a second year to gather information on how Lucentis works over the longer term, he said.


Lucentis could be on the market in 2006 and have peak sales of $500 million to $1 billion in the U.S., analysts said.

“This is a big drug for them,” said Edward Nash of Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc.

Genentech’s success in the Lucentis trial follows good results in recent clinical studies involving two of the company’s cancer drugs, Avastin and Herceptin. Analysts believe that those drugs could also have $1 billion each in annual sales.

“This company has done amazingly well,” Nash said, noting the company’s shares have surged 45% this year.


Genentech said that 95% of patients in the Lucentis trial maintained or improved their vision, compared with 62% of those who received a placebo. Side effects included eye pain and hemorrhage, and in rare cases, severe inflammatory conditions that could lead to impaired vision or blindness. Additional data will be presented at a medical meeting next month, Genentech said.

Lucentis would compete with Macugen, a drug from Eyetech Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Pfizer Inc., which was approved last year. The Macugen product label says that, on average, patients on Macugen lost vision but at a slower rate than patients given a placebo. Like Macugen, Lucentis -- which is administered monthly -- is injected into the side of the eye.

Jason Kanter, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said that although it was difficult to compare two different drug studies, “Lucentis definitely looks better.”

Genentech announced the results of the Lucentis study after the market close.

Genentech rose 70 cents to $76.70 on the New York Stock Exchange, while Eyetech rose 21 cents to $23.97 on Nasdaq. In after-hours trading, Genentech rose to $79 and Eyetech sank to $16.90.