* 44.8 pct of those taking 0.3 mg dose see 15 more letters
* Roche sells Lucentis in U.S., Novartis elsewhere
(Adds details, background)
ZURICH, March 10 (Reuters) - Diabetics suffering from a complication that can cause blindness can see better when treated with Roche’s ROG.VX eye drug Lucentis, giving the medicine a slight lift ahead of another keenly awaited trial.
A late-stage study examining how Lucentis can treat diabetic macular edema (DME) showed that after 24 months, 44.8 percent of patients taking 0.3 mg of Lucentis were able to read at least 15 more letters on an eye chart than at the start of the study.
This compares with 39.2 percent of patients given 0.5 mg of Lucentis and 18.1 percent of patients taking a placebo injection, said Roche, which was presenting the data at the annual macula society meeting on Thursday.
At 1435 GMT, Roche stock was up 0.6 percent, roughly in line with local rival Novartis NOVN.VX, which sells Lucentis outside of the United States. The European healthcare sector was up 0.4 percent..SXDP
People with diabetes frequently develop diabetic macular edema -- an accumulation of fluid and swelling within the macula, or the central part of the retina, that can lead to blindness.
Lucentis, discovered by Roche’s U.S. biotech unit Genentech, hit a setback earlier this month when Britain’s health cost watchdog rejected it as a treatment for DME.[ID:nLDE7221XI]
Investors are now eagerly awaiting data from a head-to-head study, which compares Lucentis with cheaper alternative Avastin in treating the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. [ID:nLDE71L14J]
Avastin, which works in a similar way, appears to be an effective alternative and the tiny amounts needed in the eye means it costs a fraction of the price. This has cast uncertainty over the prospects for Lucentis, a $1.5 billion seller for both Roche and Novartis.
For graphic on Lucentis sales see:
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^> (Reporting by Katie Reid; Editing by David Cowell)