Merck’s Drug Keytruda for Treatment of NSCLC

Lung cancer is one of the most serious types of cancer and it is a malignant lung tumor caused by out of control cell growth. It can start in the windpipe, the main airway or the lung tissue. Lung cancer kills nearly 160,000 Americans annually and the most common form of disease is NSCLC.

UCLA researchers have found that Merck & Co’s Keytruda is safe and effective in arresting tumor growth of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer. Keytruda, also known as pembrolizumab, belongs to a class of immunotherapies known as PD-1 inhibitors that block the Programmed Death receptor on tumor cells. This drug helps the immune system to prevent the occurrence of lung cancer by blocking protein known as PD-1 or PD-L1.

Merck’s conducted a study of 495 patients with NSCLC and found that 45% of patients with high levels of PD-L1 responded to Keytruda. Patients with PD-L1 below 1% the response rate was 10.7%. According to the researchers a quarter of trial patients had PD-1 in at least 50% of their tumor cells and overall, 19% of trial patients responded to the drug. These results were presented at a meeting of American Association for Cancer Research.

Dr. Roger Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories said, “In this study, NSCLC patients whose tumors express PD-L1 in the majority of their cells experienced the highest response rates to KEYTRUDA treatment. The results from this study formed the basis for our Breakthrough Therapy designation and our recent FDA submission for advanced NSCLC, and indicate that tumor PD-L1 expression may be a relevant biomarker to identify patients more likely to have higher rates of response to KEYTRUDA in this tumor type.”

Edward Garon, researcher at David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California said in response to the ORR of the entire study was 19.4% as “one of the exciting outcomes with this class of drug.”

Merck is advancing a clinical development program for Keytruda across more than 30 tumor types and over 14000 patients in more than 85 clinical trials.

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