When former president Jimmy Carter announced that a new type of cancer drug made his advanced melanoma seemingly disappear, patients at cancer clinics nationwide flooded doctors with requests for “the president’s drug.” Called Keytruda (generic name, pembrolizumab), the drug is a humanized monoclonal antibody that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells. Instead of attacking cancer cells directly, this immunotherapy treatment may stop cancer cells from hiding. This allows T cells to find cancer cells and help the immune system do what it’s designed to do: detect and fight cancer.
Keytruda performed so well and so fast in Carters case (the 92-year-old was treated from August 2015 through February 2016), Merck researchers stopped a study of the drug to give everyone a chance to try it. This led to testing on patients with other types of cancer, including a noteworthy 305 lung cancer patients. In the study, Merck researchers found that Keytruda worked as well, if not better than chemotherapy. Thanks to such positive results, the FDA gave Keytruda “accelerated” approval for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
Clinical trials are ongoing and include studies in patients with pleural mesothelioma. The latest findings by Merck researchers show promise:
“As data from our initial trials exploring KEYTRUDA mature, we are encouraged to see durable clinical activity in difficult-to-treat cancers such as small cell lung cancer and malignant pleural mesothelioma, where new treatments are clearly needed,” said Dr. Roger Dansey, senior vice president and therapeutic area head, oncology late-stage development, Merck Research Laboratories. “With our extensive immuno-oncology research program, we are developing KEYTRUDA across a range of thoracic malignancies, and we have additional studies underway in these two cancer types.
Updated findings from the phase 1b KEYNOTE-028 study investigating the use of KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), the company’s anti-PD-1 therapy, in previously treated patients with advanced small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and malignant pleural mesothelioma, showed clinical activity and durable responses in some patients. Findings in Small Cell Lung Cancer and Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Show Overall Response Rates of 33.3 Percent and 20.0 Percent, Respectively. The safety profile of KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) was consistent with that observed in previously reported studies.
The KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) clinical development program includes more than 30 tumor types in nearly 400 clinical trials, including more than 200 trials that combine KEYTRUDA with other cancer treatments. Merck has initiated a phase 2 trial, KEYNOTE-158, to further evaluate KEYTRUDA in advanced solid tumors including SCLC and malignant pleural mesothelioma.” –Merck Newsroom
Keytruda is now approved to treat head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC), advanced melanoma, and non-small cell lung cancer. It is the only immunotherapy drug approved for first-line treatment for this type of lung cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, talk to your doctor about Keytruda or other innovative therapies.
CNN Wire. "Can Your Own Immune System Kill Cancer?" Myfox8.com. Tribune Broadcasting, 30 Oct. 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Fox, Maggie. "Cancer Drug Keytruda Keeps Some Patients Alive For 3 Years." NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 18 May 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Fox, Maggie. "Lung Cancer Trial Stopped When Jimmy Carter Drug Shrinks Tumors." NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 16 June 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
"Keytruda Medication Guide." (n.d.): n. pag. FDA.gov. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Keytruda.com. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a Subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Mohney, Gillian. "The Remarkable Cancer Treatment That Helped Jimmy Carter Combat Brain Tumor." ABC News. ABC News Network, 07 Mar. 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
Swetlitz, Ike. "‘I Want What Jimmy Carter Had’: Patients Clamor for the President’s Cancer Drug." STAT News. STAT, 09 Mar. 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
"Updated KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) Data in Small Cell Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Presented at 17th World Conference on Lung Cancer." Merck Newsroom. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a Subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., 06 Dec. 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.