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FDA Approves Expanded Monotherapy Label for Merck’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for First-Line Treatment of NSCLC

KENILWORTH, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Merck (NYSE:MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, today announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved an expanded label for Keytruda, Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as monotherapy for the first-line treatment of patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who are not candidates for surgical resection or definitive chemoradiation, or metastatic NSCLC, and whose tumors express PD-L1 (tumor proportion score [TPS] ≥1%) as determined by an FDA-approved test, with no EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations. The approval is based on results from the Phase 3 KEYNOTE-042 trial, in which overall survival (OS) was sequentially tested as part of a pre-specified analysis plan. In the trial, Keytruda monotherapy demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in OS compared with chemotherapy alone in patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1 with a TPS ≥50%, with a TPS ≥20%, and then in the entire study population (TPS ≥1%).

“This expanded first-line indication now makes Keytruda monotherapy an option for more patients with non-small cell lung cancer, including those for whom combination therapy may not be appropriate,” said Dr. Jonathan Cheng, vice president, oncology clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories.

Immune-mediated adverse reactions, which may be severe or fatal, can occur with Keytruda, including pneumonitis, colitis, hepatitis, endocrinopathies, nephritis, severe skin reactions, solid organ transplant rejection, and complications of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Based on the severity of the adverse reaction, Keytruda should be withheld or discontinued and corticosteroids administered if appropriate. Keytruda can also cause severe or life-threatening infusion-related reactions. Based on its mechanism of action, Keytruda can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. For more information, see “Selected Important Safety Information” below.

“The KEYNOTE-042 trial demonstrated a survival benefit with Keytruda monotherapy across histologies in certain patients with stage III or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors expressed PD-L1 in at least 1% of tumor cells,” said Dr. Gilberto Lopes, associate director for global oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami. “As a practicing oncologist, having additional options available for patients is important in the rapidly evolving treatment landscape for lung cancer, which remains the leading cause of cancer death in the United States.”

Keytruda was the first anti-PD-1 therapy in metastatic NSCLC approved in the first-line setting as combination therapy or monotherapy.

About KEYNOTE-042

The approval was based on data from the KEYNOTE-042 trial, a randomized, multi-center, open-label, active-controlled trial in patients with stage III NSCLC who were not candidates for surgical resection or definitive chemoradiation, or metastatic NSCLC, and whose tumors expressed PD-L1 (TPS ≥1%) and who had not received prior systemic treatment for metastatic NSCLC. Patients with EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations; autoimmune disease that required systemic therapy within two years of treatment; a medical condition that required immunosuppression; or who had received more than 30 Gy of radiation in the thoracic region within 26 weeks prior to initiation of study treatment were ineligible.

The study enrolled 1,274 patients who were randomized (1:1) to receive Keytruda 200 mg intravenously every three weeks (n=637) or investigator’s choice of either of the following chemotherapy regimens (n=637):

  • Pemetrexed 500 mg/m2 every three weeks and carboplatin AUC 5 to 6 mg/mL/min every three weeks on Day 1 for a maximum of six cycles followed by optional pemetrexed 500 mg/m2 every three weeks for patients with nonsquamous histologies; or
  • Paclitaxel 200 mg/m2 every three weeks and carboplatin AUC 5 to 6 mg/mL/min every three weeks on Day 1 for a maximum of six cycles followed by optional pemetrexed 500 mg/m2 every three weeks for patients with nonsquamous histologies

Treatment with Keytruda continued until RECIST v1.1 (modified to follow a maximum of 10 target lesions and a maximum of 5 target lesions per organ)-defined progression of disease, unacceptable toxicity, or a maximum of 24 months. The main efficacy outcome measure was OS in the subgroup of patients with TPS ≥50% NSCLC, the subgroup of patients with TPS ≥20% NSCLC, and the overall population with TPS ≥1% NSCLC. Additional efficacy outcome measures were progression-free survival (PFS) and overall response rate (ORR) in the subgroup of patients with TPS ≥50% NSCLC, the subgroup of patients with TPS ≥20% NSCLC, and the overall population with TPS ≥1% NSCLC as assessed by a blinded independent central radiologists’ (BICR) review according to RECIST v1.1, modified to follow a maximum of 10 target lesions and a maximum of five target lesions per organ.

Efficacy Results from KEYNOTE-042

    TPS ≥1%   TPS ≥50%
Endpoint   KEYTRUDA

200 mg every 3 weeks

n=637

  Chemotherapy

n=637

  KEYTRUDA

200 mg every 3 weeks

n=299

  Chemotherapy

n=300

OS
Number of events (%)   371 (58%)   438 (69%)   157 (53%)   199 (66%)
Median in months (95% CI)   16.7

(13.9-19.7)

  12.1

(11.3-13.3)

  20.0

(15.4-24.9)

  12.2

(10.4-14.2)

Hazard ratio (HR)* (95% CI)   0.81 (0.71-0.93)   0.69 (0.56-0.85)
p-Value   0.0036   0.0006
PFS
Number of events (%)   507 (80%)   506 (79%)   221 (74%)   233 (78%)
Median in months (95% CI)   5.4

(4.3-6.2)

  6.5

(6.3-7.0)

  7.1

(5.9-9.0)

  6.4

(6.1-6.9)

HR*,‡ (95% CI)   1.07 (0.94-1.21)   0.81 (0.67-0.99)
p-Value   -   NS§
Objective Response Rate
ORR(95% CI)   27%

(24-31)

  27%

(23-30)

  39%

(33.9-45.3)

  32%

(26.8-37.6)

Complete response rate   0.5%   0.5%   0.7%   0.3%
Partial response rate   27%   26%   39%   32%
Duration of Response
% with duration ≥ 12 months   47%   16%   42%   17%
% with duration ≥ 18 months   26%   6%   25%   5%

 * Based on the stratified Cox proportional hazard model

† Based on a stratified log-rank test; compared to a p-Value boundary of 0.0291
‡ Not evaluated for statistical significance as a result of the sequential testing procedure for the secondary endpoints
§ Not significant compared to a p-Value boundary of 0.0291
¶ Based on observed duration of response

The results of all efficacy outcome measures in the subgroup of patients with PD-L1 TPS ≥20% NSCLC were intermediate between the results of those with PD-L1 TPS ≥1% and those with PD-L1 TPS ≥50%. In a pre-specified exploratory subgroup analysis for patients with TPS 1-49% NSCLC, the median OS was 13.4 months (95% CI, 10.7-18.2) for the Keytruda group and 12.1 months (95% CI, 11.0-14.0) in the chemotherapy group, with an HR of 0.92 (95% CI, 0.77-1.11).

In KEYNOTE-042, the safety of Keytruda was investigated in patients with PD-L1 expressing, previously untreated stage III NSCLC who were not candidates for surgical resection or definitive chemoradiation, or metastatic NSCLC. Keytruda was discontinued for adverse reactions in 19% of 636 patients. The most common adverse reactions resulting in permanent discontinuation of Keytruda were pneumonitis (3.0%), death due to unknown cause (1.6%), and pneumonia (1.4%). Adverse reactions leading to interruption of Keytruda occurred in 33% of patients; the most common adverse reactions or laboratory abnormalities leading to interruption of Keytruda (≥2%) were pneumonitis (3.1%), pneumonia (3.0%), hypothyroidism (2.2%), and increased ALT (2.0%). The most frequent (≥2%) serious adverse reactions were pneumonia (7%), pneumonitis (3.9%), pulmonary embolism (2.4%), and pleural effusion (2.2%). The most common adverse reaction (≥20%) with Keytruda was fatigue (25%).

About Keytruda ® (pembrolizumab) Injection, 100mg

Keytruda is an anti-PD-1 therapy that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells. Keytruda is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2, thereby activating T lymphocytes which may affect both tumor cells and healthy cells.

Merck has the industry’s largest immuno-oncology clinical research program. There are currently more than 950 trials studying Keytruda across a wide variety of cancers and treatment settings. The Keytruda clinical program seeks to understand the role of Keytruda across cancers and the factors that may predict a patient’s likelihood of benefitting from treatment with Keytruda, including exploring several different biomarkers.

Merck’s Focus on Cancer

Our goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At Merck, the potential to bring new hope to people with cancer drives our purpose and supporting accessibility to our cancer medicines is our commitment. As part of our focus on cancer, Merck is committed to exploring the potential of immuno-oncology with one of the largest development programs in the industry across more than 30 tumor types. We also continue to strengthen our portfolio through strategic acquisitions and are prioritizing the development of several promising oncology candidates with the potential to improve the treatment of advanced cancers. For more information about our oncology clinical trials, visit www.merck.com/clinicaltrials.

About the Merck Access Program for Keytruda

At Merck, we are committed to supporting accessibility to our cancer medicines. Merck provides multiple programs to help ensure that appropriate patients who are prescribed Keytruda have access to our anti-PD-1 therapy. The Merck Access Program provides reimbursement support for patients receiving Keytruda, including information to help with out-of-pocket costs and co-pay assistance for eligible patients. Merck also offers free product through our patient assistance program to eligible patients, primarily the uninsured, who, without our assistance, could not afford their medicine. More information is available by calling 855-257-3932 or visiting www.merckaccessprogram-keytruda.com.

About Merck’s Patient Support Program for Keytruda

Merck is committed to helping provide patients and their caregivers support throughout their treatment with Keytruda. The KEY+YOU Patient Support Program provides a range of resources and services. For further information and to sign up, patients and physicians may call 85-KEYTRUDA (855-398-7832) or visit www.keytruda.com.

About Merck

For more than a century, Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, Merck continues to be at the forefront of research to advance the prevention and treatment of diseases that threaten people and communities around the world - including cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases, emerging animal diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and infectious diseases including HIV and Ebola. For more information, visit www.merck.com and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

Forward-Looking Statement of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA

This news release of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA (the “company”) includes “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are based upon the current beliefs and expectations of the company’s management and are subject to significant risks and uncertainties. There can be no guarantees with respect to pipeline products that the products will receive the necessary regulatory approvals or that they will prove to be commercially successful. If underlying assumptions prove inaccurate or risks or uncertainties materialize, actual results may differ materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements.

Risks and uncertainties include but are not limited to, general industry conditions and competition; general economic factors, including interest rate and currency exchange rate fluctuations; the impact of pharmaceutical industry regulation and health care legislation in the United States and internationally; global trends toward health care cost containment; technological advances, new products and patents attained by competitors; challenges inherent in new product development, including obtaining regulatory approval; the company’s ability to accurately predict future market conditions; manufacturing difficulties or delays; financial instability of international economies and sovereign risk; dependence on the effectiveness of the company’s patents and other protections for innovative products; and the exposure to litigation, including patent litigation, and/or regulatory actions.

The company undertakes no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. Additional factors that could cause results to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements can be found in the company’s 2018 Annual Report on Form 10-K and the company’s other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) available at the SEC’s Internet site ( www.sec.gov ).

Please see Prescribing Information for Keytruda at  http://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/k/keytruda/keytruda_pi.pdf  and Medication Guide for Keytruda at  http://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/k/keytruda/keytruda_mg.pdf .

Source: Merck

Posted: April 2019

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