Lungs  (Source:
A novel immunotherapy offers a unique breakthrough toward the successful treatment for lung cancer patients. This weekend, Merck announced the results of two major studies showing Keytruda’s superior ability to slow the progression of advanced lung cancer and reduce risk of death by fifty percent (50%) at the annual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO).

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Chemotherapy is currently the standard of treatment in most patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which makes up about 80% of all cases of lung cancer. The problem is the survival rates remain low and the side effects are high. Study results announced at the ESMO and also published in the October 9th edition of The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that Merck’s Keytruda treatment can offer a “meaningful improvement” over standard chemotherapy treatments.

Based upon the results observed from two major clinical studies, KEYTRUDA also known as pembrolizumab, is the only anti-PD-1 to demonstrate superior progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS) compared to chemotherapy for the first-line treatment of both squamous and non-squamous NSCLC in patients whose tumors express high levels of PD-L1 and whose tumors have not mutated or spread to other parts of the body.
Results of KEYNOTE-24, a clinical trial which studied Keytruda as a single therapy, compared to those who were treated with chemotherapy showed that it reduced the risk of disease progression by 50% and reduced the risk of death by 40%. Patients taking Keytruda also saw a 45% shrinkage of tumors compared to only 28% of patients on chemotherapy.
Another study, KEYNOTE-21 was conducted by researchers at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, found 33 of the 60 patients who received both Keytruda, plus chemotherapy (carboplatin plus pemetrexed), responded to treatment, compared to 18 of 63 patients who received only chemotherapy, according to a statement from the company. Patients on combination therapy had an average progression-free survival of 12 months, compared to 8.9 months with the standard of care. The risk of disease progression or death was reduced by 47 percent.  Patients also had a longer period of time before their tumors started growing again.
How does it work?
Keytruda works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight cancer cells.  It blocks the PD-1 pathway and prevents the cancer cells from remaining hidden from the body’s natural immune defense system.
How KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) Helps Fight Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
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Currently, Keytruda is approved as a second line of therapy for NSCLC patients who have tried chemotherapy and haven’t been successful. According to Bloomberg, Matthew Hellman, an oncologist specializing in lung cancer from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, notes that the combination of Keytruda with chemotherapy is “a welcome addition to the field”, although more testing with larger sample sizes is needed in order to draw stronger conclusions.  
The FDA also approved Keytruda for patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer. The addition of treatment Keytruda for NCSLC presents another major step forward in the advancement for treatment of this disease. According to Merck, this discovery could significantly increase the market share of Keytruda to an even wider population.

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