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ASCO conference: Merck & Co.'s Keytruda improves 5-year lung cancer lifespan

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ASCO conference: Merck & Co.'s Keytruda improves 5-year lung cancer lifespan

SNL ImageThe 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology takes place from May 31 to June 4.
Source: ASCO

Merck & Co. Inc. said its immunotherapy Keytruda helped patients live for five years with advanced non-small cell lung cancer in an early-stage study that is the longest trial conducted with the drug in that type of cancer.

Of patients on Keytruda who had not received chemotherapy, 23.2% were still alive after five years, while 15.5% of patients treated with chemotherapy before switching to Keytruda survived that long.

Before immunotherapies like Keytruda were available, only 5.5% of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer survived for five years, Merck said in a release.

Keytruda works by inhibiting a pathway between healthy cells and cancer cells to allow the immune system to attack a tumor, in this case in the lungs. Patients whose tumors express that pathway to a higher degree see more benefit from the drug, according to the study, which is dubbed Keynote-001.

The phase 1b trial, Keynote-001, began in 2011, enrolling 550 people with the disease, which is an aggressive form of lung cancer.

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"The fact that we have patients on this trial still alive after seven years is quite remarkable," lead study author and the University of California, Los Angeles Associate Professor of Medicine Edward Garon said in the release. "We also have evidence that most patients who are doing well after two years on [Keytruda] live for five years or more.

The company will present the results June 2 at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

"It's truly remarkable that for more patients than ever before, we no longer have to count survival in months," ASCO Expert David Graham said. "However, we still have a long way to go to improve outcomes for all advanced NSCLC patients. We look forward to more research helping us determine how to identify these patients."

Side effects, which occurred in 17% of patients, most commonly included hypothyroidism. Inflation of lung tissue was the most serious side effect but was less common.

Keytruda was approved in advanced non-small cell lung cancer in October 2015 and is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 19 types of cancer.

The 2019 American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting is expected to bring together more than 32,000 professionals from around the world, with more than 2,400 study abstracts to be presented on site and an additional 3,200 abstracts to be published online.

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