Lung Cancer Treatment Breakthrough: Merck's Pembrolizumab (K
Merck's drug pembrolizumab (Keytrdua) already approved as a second-line treatment for certain advanced head-and-neck cancers by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has now shown efficacy in patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Researchers presented results from their phase - III clinical trial at the European Society for Medical Oncology congress this weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark. Their experimental treatment, a synthesized antibody that triggers the immune system into attacking tumor cells, proved to be a clear winner over conventional chemotherapy for patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Previously untreated patients given the drug, called pembrolizumab, responded more often, lived longer, and had less signs of disease progression by the ten month mark than did patients given chemotherapy. The results were so stark that researchers halted the trial early so every patient could switch onto pembrolizumab. The findings were simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Indeed, an earlier trial of a similar drug (Opdivo) developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb fell short of its expected goal, with results showing it was no better than chemotherapy for lung cancer patients.

Unlike the Opdivo trial, however, Merck’s trial was intended for patients with a particular type of NSCLC. The majority of these patients’ cancer cells contained PD-L1, a protein that normally blocks white blood cells from unnecessarily killing off healthy cells but which can also help cancer cells avoid destruction. According to the researchers, approximately a quarter of advanced NSCLC cases fit this criteria, while NSCLC is the common type of lung cancer...

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