A move by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has converted a previously-designated accelerated approval for the Merck-manufactured drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) as a second-line treatment for lung cancer of the non-small cell variety to a regular first-line treatment for those individuals whose tumors express the PD-L1 protein.
As a result of this move, oncologists who treat asbestos-caused cancer proclaim that this brings them one step closer to proof that Keytruda could be the next big thing in the treatment of mesothelioma.
Keytruda is one of several immunotherapy drugs that are coming to the attention of the medical world and to that of the general public. Opdiva is another immunotherapy drug that is being used for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer as well as melanoma. It has followed a similar approval track to that of Keytruda.
There are currently 90 clinical trials being conducted for Keytruda, with patients who have a variety of different types of cancer. Only one is currently open to those with malignant pleural mesothelioma.
This particular trial (Phase II), which is centered at the University of Chicago, will conclude some time in 2018.
Though trials continue, mesothelioma patients may be treated with Keytruda at several different cancer centers throughout the United States, including Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, through a program offered by Merck called the Patients Access Program.
Abramson doctors have already seen impressive results with Keytruda as an option for mesothelioma patients who have completed conventional therapies (chemo, radiation, resection surgery).
Among the 25 patients enrolled in a study the hospital initiated in 2015, 76 percent achieved disease control. That’s an impressive number, with results far better than with traditional chemo treatment with the first-line mesothelioma drug of choice, pemetrexed (Alimta).
Another huge benefit of treatment with Keytruda and other similar immunotherapy drugs has been the large reduction in side effects as compared to traditional chemotherapy drugs.
Immunotherapy patients report that they feel good most of the time and many have been able to return to their normal activities during and after the treatments, which occur by injections administered every 3 weeks.
Keytruda was first developed for the treatment of melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer. It’s most famous user was Jimmy Carter, who was given Keytruda for his melanoma.
It halted the cancer that had spread to his brain. Carter received the treatment two years ago after being presented with a very grim prognosis for his survival. That was in 2014 and Carter is now 92 and purportedly cancer-free.
Mesothelioma patients who would like to be considered for treatment with Keytruda should consult their oncologist for more information.
If travel is necessary in order to receive immunotherapy treatments, patients should check with their insurance carrier and/or pursue other options for payment, including legal action against those responsible for their disease.