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Keytruda May Have Potential to Extend Lives of Lung Cancer Patients

Study finds immune therapy drug may help fight advanced lung cancer

A study that compared pembrolizumab (Keytruda, Merck) to the chemotherapy medication docetaxel in patients with non–small-cell lung cancer found that those with the highest amounts of programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) who received pembrolizumab lived twice as long as those who received docetaxel alone. 

The protein PD-L1, which all of the patients’ tumors produced, can shield tumors from immune system attack, according to a team led by Dr. Roy Herbst, professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine.

Among patients with the highest amounts of PD-L1, those who received Keytruda lived twice as long as those who received docetaxel alone — 14.9 months versus 8.2 months, Herbst's team found. Patients with low levels of PD-L1 also benefited from Keytruda. Treatment-linked side effects were less in patients given Keytruda versus those who took docetaxel, the study found.

There might be one drawback to Keytruda, however: cost. A year's supply of the drug carries a price tag of about $150,000.

The new study was published in The Lancet and presented at the annual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology. The research was funded by Merck.

The findings suggest that the drug might be offered earlier to patients with a particular lung-tumor profile, said Herbst, who is also chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut.

"I believe we should treat patients with the best available drugs as soon as possible. Now that we have learned which patients are most likely to benefit from the anti-PD-L1 strategy, we could begin moving this drug to the earlier setting stages," he said. "In this direction, I am eager to see the results of ongoing studies testing [Keytruda] in the first-line setting and as an adjuvant after surgery to hopefully reduce high rates of lung cancer recurrence."

Keytruda is commonly used to treat other tumor types, and made headlines recently after it helped former President Jimmy Carter fight off brain cancer.

Source: HealthDay, December 21, 2015.

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