Keytruda drug graphic-tumor-merck-crpd
For patients with a deadly skin cancer who previously had few treatment options, a drug that will boost their immune systems has shown great promise.

After 655 patients with advanced melanoma received the drug pembrolizumab, a new study showed 15% of people in the trial had no sign of cancer three years later, achieving total remission.

Until now, this type of melanoma had a median overall survival rate of less than 1 year. In this trial, of those who received the antibody, 89% remained in some state of remission after three years.

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“Advanced melanoma is still a very challenging cancer, which is why it is so remarkable that such a large proportion of patients see a long-term survival benefit from this therapy,” said lead study author Caroline Robert, MD, PhD, Head of the Dermatology Unit at the Institut Gustave-Roussy in Paris.

The data, released ahead of the world‘s biggest cancer conference, showed patients did develop side effects including fatigue and a rash.

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Invented at Organon Biosciences and marketed by Merck, under the name Keytruda, pembrolizumab is one of several new drugs that works by making cancer cells vulnerable to the immune system. It was approved in the US for use against lung cancer. It is also being tested for use with triple-negative breast cancer, gastric cancer, urothelial cancer, and head and neck cancer.

The drug has already been approved for use in the UK for patients with melanoma–and in the US, the FDA gave the drug the go-ahead under its “Fast Track” program in 2014.

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Patients in this trial were on the drug for an average of slightly less than one year–which would cost on the retail market around $150,000.

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