Merck’s still got it.
After gaining a lead in the race to develop treatments for advanced lung cancer in May, the drugmaker MRK, +2.06% recently presented additional positive trial results for star cancer drug Keytruda, at the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting. Company shares rose 1.7% in extremely heavy Monday trade.
Among the more important trials was one testing Keytruda on its own as a first-line treatment for lung cancer.
In the late-stage trial, called Keynote-042, patients with advanced or metastatic lung cancer whose cancer tumors expressed a particular protein called PD-L1 survived “significantly longer” than those who were treated with chemotherapy alone, Merck said, describing Keytruda as the only drug of its kind to show this kind of benefit.
Keytruda also had positive results in another phase 3 trial, Keynote-407, which looked at a combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for lung cancer. In the late-stage trial, patients on Keytruda plus chemotherapy had a 36% lower risk of death compared with chemotherapy alone.
Improvements in rate of survival existed regardless of whether patients’ cancers expressed the PD-L1 protein, Merck said, and using Keytruda with chemotherapy also significantly improved patients’ rate of survival without their cancer progressing.
“Keytruda shines” in non-small cell lung cancer, was the verdict of SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst John Boris.
Though Boris questioned whether Keynote-042’s trial design — specifically, over-recruiting patients with squamous cancers, which often spread to other parts of the body unless caught early — resulted in its success, “regardless of what exactly caused Keytruda’s edge… the fact remains that Opdivo still does not have an indication in [first-line non-small cell lung cancer],” and Keytruda is quickly becoming a widely used treatment, he said.
The unifying theme of the recent