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Merck's Keytruda combo wins European approval as first-line lung cancer therapy

Merck & Co. Inc. said the European Commission approved a combination of its blockbuster drug Keytruda with Eli Lilly and Co.'s Alimta and chemotherapy as an initial treatment for a certain type of lung cancer.

According to Merck, Keytruda is the first anti-PD-1 therapy approved in combination with chemotherapy in the first-line setting in Europe as a treatment of adult patients with nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer whose disease has spread and does not have certain genetic alterations known as epidermal growth factor receptor and anaplastic lymphoma kinase which can cause cancer cells to grow faster.

The combination treatment also received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the same indication in August.

Keytruda works by targeting the PD-1 protein, which helps the tumor cells evade the body's cancer-killing T cells.

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The approval, which was backed by the European Medicines Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use in July, was based on the results of a late-stage study dubbed Keynote-189 in which patients who received the combination treatment demonstrated a 51% reduction in the risk of death.