Immunotherapy news: Pembrolizumab

Pembrolizumab, also commercially known as Keytruda® by Merck, is an anti-cancer immunotherapy. It is an anti-PD-1 that inhibits check points, allowing the immune system to attack cancer cells more specifically. It also stimulates the effect of T cells, so they can attack cancer cells. Pembrolizumab blocks the activity of PD-1, which is a protein that causes T cells to not recognize cancer cells. By blocking this check point, T cells can recognize better cancer cells and attack them.

Pembrolizumab is greatly known for its success treating non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). There are more than one thousand clinical trials using this molecule to research its use, including some new ones like renal cell carcinoma, melanoma, and head and neck cancer. Recently, Keytruda® received FDA’s approval for the treatment of small cell lung cancer with disease progression on or after platinum-based chemotherapy. At the ASCO this year, results of a NSCLC protocol, the KEYNOTE-001, showed an increase in survival in people with metastatic NSCLC. After five years, 23.2% of the patients not previously treated with chemotherapy and 15.5% of the patients treated previously were still alive. There were other results presented and these were of the KEYNOTE-062 phase 3 trial. This trial was for patients with advanced gastric cancer. The results regarding general survival were comparable to the standard-of-care. Additionally, Pembrolizumab showed a clinical improvement in the overall survival of the patients whose tumors had a high expression of PD-L1. After two years, 39% of the patients who received Pembrolizumab were still alive, compared to 22% of the patients who received the standard-of-care chemotherapy.

Results for this molecule have been good, regarding tumor response rate and durability of the response. Also, oncologists’ comments in general about this drug are very positive. They have said it’s an effective and noble drug with the patients because it shows fewer side effects, compared to other immunotherapies. At Althian, we are glad to say we are going to start a clinical trial using this molecule. We have many years of experience working with immunotherapy in oncology, so we are excited to have this trial at our facility. Feel free to contact us for more information regarding our upcoming trials.