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Exciting FDA Approval Gained For Merck’s Keytruda in Treatment of Head & Neck Cancer

By John F. Heerdink, Jr.
Merck & Co., Inc.  (MRK) is a global healthcare solutions provider that has been working towards bringing forward medicine and vaccines for some the of the world’s most challenging diseases for more than a century.  They are committed to increasing health care access and continue to be at the leading edge of research. Merck has the industry’s largest immuno-oncology clinical research program. Merck’s KEYTRUDA, an anti-PD-1 therapy that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells. KEYTRUDA is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2, thereby activating T lymphocytes which may affect both tumor cells and healthy cells. There are currently more than 1,000 trials studying KEYTRUDA across a wide variety of cancers and treatment settings. The KEYTRUDA clinical program seeks to understand the role of KEYTRUDA across cancers and the factors that may predict a patient’s likelihood of benefitting from treatment with KEYTRUDA, including exploring several different biomarkers. Recently, Merck announced that they that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved KEYTRUDA as monotherapy in patients whose tumors express PD-L1 (Combined Positive Score [CPS] ≥1) or in combination with platinum and fluorouracil (FU), a commonly used chemotherapy regimen, for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). The approval is based on results from the pivotal Phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 trial, where KEYTRUDA demonstrated a significant improvement in overall survival (OS) compared with the EXTREME regimen (cetuximab with carboplatin or cisplatin plus FU), a standard treatment, as monotherapy in patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1 (CPS ≥1) (HR=0.78 [95% CI, 0.64-0.96]; p=0.0171) and in combination with chemotherapy in the total study population (HR=0.77 [95% CI, 0.63-0.93]; p=0.0067). With these new indications, KEYTRUDA is the first anti-PD-1 therapy approved in the first-line setting as monotherapy in patients whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥1) or in combination with chemotherapy regardless of PD-L1 expression for patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent HNSCC and the first anti-PD-1 therapy to demonstrate a statistically significant improvement in OS in these patients.
Dr. Jonathan Cheng, vice president, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories stated, “Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma has historically presented many challenges to physicians and patients, including limited treatment options and physical and functional issues caused by the disease and its treatment. This approval is an important advance in the management of this devastating cancer. The results of KEYNOTE-048, which support this approval, demonstrated that KEYTRUDA monotherapy for patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1 CPS greater than or equal to one and KEYTRUDA in combination with chemotherapy regardless of PD-L1 expression significantly prolonged survival for patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in the first-line setting.”
Merck’s stated goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At Merck, the potential to bring new hope to people with cancer drives their purpose and supporting accessibility to their cancer medicines is their commitment. As part of their focus on cancer, Merck is committed to exploring the potential of immuno-oncology with one of the largest development programs in the industry across more than 30 tumor types. They also continue to strengthen their portfolio through strategic acquisitions and are prioritizing the development of several promising oncology candidates with the potential to improve the treatment of advanced cancers. To learn more about Merck (MRK) and to track its ongoing progress please visit the Vista Partners Merck Coverage Page.

If you found this story interesting you should consider reading about Seattle-based Atossa Genetics (Nasdaq: ATOS) which is is a clinical-stage drug company developing novel, proprietary therapeutics and delivery methods for breast cancer and other breast conditions. To learn more please see the Atossa dedicated coverage page at Vista Partners.

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To read the original article visit the Merck website at this link.


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