The end of chemotherapy as the go-to first line treatment for some cancers may be a little closer with news from a major cancer research conference on a trial that found Merck’s immunotherapy drug Keytruda worked better for patients with a certain type of lung cancer than chemo.
The results from the large, randomized trial of the drug in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer is great news for patients, but also was good news on Monday for Merck, which saw its shares increase more than 2 percent in value on the New York Stock Exchange.
Keytruda patients in the trial survived for a median of 16.7 months, while patients given chemotherapy lived just over 12 months.
The results were announced this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which is one of the biggest events of the year in cancer research, bringing 45,000 doctors, researchers, and drug company executives to Chicago.
Keytruda is an immunotherapy drug, which is designed to spark an immune response in the body to fight an attacker like cancer. Other similar drugs in the class include Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo and Roche’s Tecentriq.
“In this study, Keytruda demonstrated promising overall response rates in the overall population of small cell lung cancer patients, and in patients whose tumors express (the protein) PD-L1,” said Dr. Hyun Cheol Chung, a professor at the Cancer Metastasis Research Center and Yonsei Cancer Center in South Korea. “As an oncologist, I am encouraged by these results evaluating Keytruda as a monotherapy in a type of lung cancer that has seen little progress in meaningful treatment advances.”
It’s not yet clear whether Keytruda would do better in combination with chemotherapy than alone in patients who express PD-L1, the company said.
“We are encouraged by the response rates observed in this study, and continue to evaluate the potential of Keytruda in combination with chemotherapy as first-line treatment in patients with extensive stage small cell lung cancer,” said Dr. Jonathan Cheng, vice president of oncology clinical research at Merck Research Laboratories.