Results of two large-scale studies were released by Merck at EMSO (European Society for Medical Oncology) showing Keytruda, an immunotherapy drug used in treating advanced melanoma, has great potential for treating lung cancer as well. The highlight of which was Keytruda’s slowing of progressions in advanced lung cancer and reduction of mortality by an impressive 50%.
A simple explanation of how it works:
Cancer cells can hide from your immune system by hijacking and hiding in the PD1 pathway. The PD1 (Programmed Cell Death Protein 1) is a cell surface receptor expressed by T-Cells and Pro-B Cells. It is a checkpoint in the immune system. Keytruda blocks the PD-1Pathway so cancer cells cannot hide from T-Cells there; thus allowing the body’s own immune system to attack cancer.
Results from both studies show that Keytruda (also called Pembrolizumab) is the only anti-PD1 to show above-average progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS) compared to chemotherapy for the first-line treatment of squamous and non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in individuals whose tumors showed high levels of PD-1 but those tumors had neither muted nor spread.
The results of a study showing Keytruda as a single therapy (the only therapy) in comparison to individuals who were treated with chemotherapy had a reduction of the risk of disease progression at 50% and a 45% reduction of risk of mortality. Individuals also had 45% shrinkage of tumors in comparison to individuals undergoing chemotherapy having only a 28% rate of shrinkage.
Results of another study run by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania compared results in a pool of 60 individuals who were treated with Keytruda & Chemotherapy (Carboplatin & Pemetrexed). Of the 60, 33 of them responded to treatment as opposed to the second group of 63 individuals receiving only Chemotherapy (Carboplatin & Pemetrexed). In the Chemo-only group, the numbers were 18 out of 63 responding to treatment.
Individuals who had undergone the “Combination Therapy” of Keytruda & Chemo had progression-free survival (PFS) of 12 months (1 year) as opposed to 8.9 months for those subjected to the standard treatment regimen. The overall risk of disease progression and/or mortality was down by 47%, with a longer period of time before tumors began to grow again.
At this time, Keytruda is an approved second-line therapy for squamous and non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) for individuals who have undergone chemotherapy with no success. The FDA has also approved Keytruda for individuals with either recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer.