Merck’s Keytruda Trial Delivers Boost To Kidney Cancer Patients

Merck’s blockbuster cancer treatment Keytruda cuts patients’ risk of dying from kidney cancer in half when taken in combination with a Pfizer drug, according to trial data published on Monday that could herald a new standard in combating the disease.

The US pharmaceutical company’s immunotherapy treatment has already been approved in the US for 15 cancer and 10 tumour types, sending sales soaring 88 per cent to $7.2bn last year. Now, Merck is testing the drug in combinations to see if they improve care for other cancers. 

In trial data due to be presented at the American Society for Oncologists genitourinary conference this weekend, Merck will show that Keytruda combined with Inlyta significantly outperformed Sunitinib, another Pfizer drug and the current standard of care for renal cell carcinoma.

The trial showed an almost 50 per cent reduction in risk of death and an almost 40 per cent drop in the risk of the disease progressing or death. Twenty per cent more patients responded to the treatment than to Sunitinib. 

Roy Baynes, chief medical officer at Merck, said Keytruda was the “most broad spectrum anti-cancer drug ever”. He said the trial showed it could be a “meaningful treatment opportunity” for renal cell carcinoma patients, especially because its side effects were “quite manageable”. 

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“This is a tremendous revolution in treatment of cancer patients,” Dr Baynes said. “We are very humbled and gratified to be able to bring forward a medicine that has such a big effect on patients.”

Merck was the best performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average last year, up 35.8 per cent, helped by investors’ excitement at the sales of Keytruda. The therapy is being used to treat non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, and head and neck cancers, among others. 

The company has now submitted its first files for approval of the drug’s use to treat kidney cancer. 

Andrew Baum, an analyst at Citi, said he expected the combination of Keytruda and Inlyta to become the “gold standard” for treating renal cancer that has already spread around the body. This would replace the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy, owned by Bristol-Myers Squibb. 

“We continue to believe that the market continues to under appreciate both Keytruda’s potential as well as multiple other products,” he said. 

Keytruda is an immunotherapy, a treatment that works by harnessing the body’s own immune system against the cancer. Many cancers block the immune system’s response but Keytruda disables the receptor that switches off the response, enabling the body to fight back. 

Source : https://www.ft.com/content/d6cec5b8-2e13-11e9-8744-e7016697f225

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