Lampalizumab, an experimental eye drug from Roche, has helped slow down the progression of an advanced form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in a Phase II study, the company announced this week.

The positive results could help the company enter the profitable eye drugs market.

The results of the study, which were presented at the American Society of Retina Specialists in Toronto earlier in the week, showed a 20.4% reduction rate in the area of geographic atrophy at 18 months in patients suffering from this form of AMD.

The data also did not show any unexpected or unmanageable side effects associated with the drug, the company said.

Currently, there are no approved treatments for AMD, which affects more than eight million people worldwide. This number is expected to rise as populations of older people increase in years to come.

The drug will also provide a much needed boost for Roche, which is the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs. The company recently suffered a blow when it had to scrap drugs for diabetes and to boost levels of ‘good’ high-density cholesterol.

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By GlobalData

Genentech, Roche’s biotech unit, director of early clinical development Carole Ho told Reuters: "While we have been a very oncology-focused company, ophthalmology is an area where there’s a huge amount of opportunity."

"While we have been a very oncology-focused company, ophthalmology is an area where there’s a huge amount of opportunity."

Roche already has one successful drug in the ophthalmology area, Lucentis, a treatment for wet age-related macula degeneration (AMD). The drug racked up sales of $1.5bn in the US last year.

Its latest eye drug, Lampalizumab, which is a treatment for the dry form of AMD, known as geographic atrophy (GA), works by inhibiting the cell-destruction properties of the protein Factor D, which is believed to be a risk factor in developing AMD.

The company also identified a sub-population of GA patients using exploratory biomarkers. Among this group the rate of GA slowed by 44% at 18 months.

Lampalizumab was acquired by Roche’s biotech unit Genentech when it bought Tanox in 2007.

Image: A fundus photo showing intermediate age-related macular degeneration. Photo: courtesy of National Eye Institute of the NIH.