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Merck & Co., Pfizer drug combo improves survival of kidney cancer patients

Merck & Co. Inc. and Pfizer Inc. said a combination of their drugs Keytruda and Inlyta helped patients with kidney cancer live longer.

The companies are studying the combination in a phase 3 trial dubbed Keynote-426, which is evaluating the medicines against Pfizer's Sutent alone in patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma who have not received prior therapy and whose disease may have spread.

An interim analysis showed the combination was not only better than Sutent, or sunitinib, in prolonging the lives of patients but also in keeping the disease from getting worse. It also helped reduce the size of patients' tumors and was found to be effective regardless of whether patients expressed the programmed death ligand-1, or PD-L1, protein which plays a major role in suppressing the immune system.

The safety profile of Keytruda and Inlyta was consistent with those observed in previous studies for each therapy. The companies said they will present the results at an upcoming medical meeting and will submit data with regulatory authorities worldwide. "Fewer than 10% of those diagnosed with advanced renal cell carcinoma survive for five years, and hence there is significant need for improved therapies for this disease," Merck Research Laboratories' President, Roger Perlmutter, said in a statement.

New York-based Pfizer has continued to develop Inlyta, or axitinib, in combination with other therapies, including with Germany-based MERCK Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien's Bavencio, to treat cancer.

In April, the drugmaker had stopped a phase 3 trial of the medicine, which works by blocking blood vessels from forming and feeding a tumor, after it failed to keep disease from returning in certain kidney cancer patients.

Sutent is approved in the U.S. to treat kidney cancer in both early and advanced stages, while Inlyta is used to treat advanced renal cell carcinoma, one of the most common types of kidney cancer, after a patient has failed one prior therapy.

Merck & Co.'s blockbuster drug Keytruda, or pembrolizumab, blocks a tumor's ability to resist attacks by the body's immune system.