A Good Mix for QLT

It's not the most promising clinical trial results that investors had been waiting for, but QLT (Nasdaq: QLTI  ) on Friday announced new study data of its age-related macular degeneration (AMD) drug Visudyne in combination with Genentech's (NYSE: DNA  ) Avastin.

The data, from multiple studies of Visudyne in combination with Avastin and other agents, was presented at the Macula Society conference. But none of the data presented there will significantly change the way doctors are prescribing Visudyne.

The data from QLT does give hope to investors about the type of results that it and partner Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) could present later this year and next year with Visudyne in combination therapy with Genentech's Lucentis versus Lucentis alone in its RADICAL study, and other clinical trials under way.

The story of how Genentech's Avastin and Lucentis took over the market for treating AMD is not new to any investor. Analysts had been pondering that possibility for years before it became a reality. Now that Lucentis and off-label Avastin are the market leaders for treating wet AMD, QLT has been struggling to show that Visudyne's unique treatment -- no sharp needle to the eye is needed -- and different catalyst should earn it a place in eye doctors' lineups.

QLT has said sales of Visudyne should still take a big hit, falling to $145 million to $160 million in 2008 from $215 million in 2007, and QLT's profit from these sales should be around 20%. Nonetheless, every little bit of extra positive data helps to cushion Visudyne's reduced market share in wet AMD.

On the scale of clinical and regulatory victories for drugmakers, we'll call last week's new data a weak single compared with the double that QLT hit two weeks ago when the Food and Drug Administration lifted some of the restrictions on its acne treatment Aczone. With runners on the corners, I can't wait to see QLT's next at-bat.


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