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FDA Approves Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for Patients With BCG-Unresponsive, High-Risk, Non-Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer

KENILWORTH, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE) January 8, 2020 --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 Keytruda, Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as monotherapy for the treatment of patients with Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG)-unresponsive, high-risk, non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) with carcinoma in situ (CIS) with or without papillary tumors who are ineligible for or have elected not to undergo cystectomy.

“Today’s approval of Keytruda reinforces our company’s commitment to expanding existing treatment options for certain patients with high-risk, non-muscle invasive bladder cancer,” said Dr. Scot Ebbinghaus, vice president, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories. “As the first anti-PD-1 therapy approved in this setting, Keytruda will be a new clinical option for a patient population that previously had limited FDA-approved therapies available.”

Immune-mediated adverse reactions, which may be severe or fatal, can occur with Keytruda, including pneumonitis, colitis, hepatitis, endocrinopathies, nephritis and renal dysfunction, 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.

“High-risk, non-muscle invasive bladder cancer is a serious disease, characterized by frequent recurrences and progression,” said Arjun V. Balar, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and director of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center. “Historically, patients with high-risk, non-muscle invasive bladder cancer with CIS whose cancer is unresponsive to BCG treatment had limited non-surgical treatment options. As a physician who specializes in the management of bladder cancer, it is encouraging to now have a new treatment option for these patients.”

Data Supporting the Approval

The approval was based on data from KEYNOTE-057 (NCT02625961), a multicenter, open-label, single-arm trial in 96 patients with BCG-unresponsive, high-risk, non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) with carcinoma in situ (CIS) with or without papillary tumors who are ineligible for or have elected not to undergo cystectomy. In this study, BCG-unresponsive high-risk NMIBC was defined as persistent disease despite adequate BCG therapy, disease recurrence after an initial tumor-free state following adequate BCG therapy, or T1 disease following a single induction course of BCG. Adequate BCG therapy was defined as administration of at least five of six doses of an initial induction course plus either of: at least two of three doses of maintenance therapy or at least two of six doses of a second induction course. Prior to treatment, all patients had undergone transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) to remove all resectable disease (Ta and T1 components). Residual CIS (Tis components) not amenable to complete resection was allowed. The trial excluded patients with muscle invasive (i.e., T2, T3, T4) locally advanced non-resectable or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, concurrent extra-vesical (i.e., urethra, ureter or renal pelvis) non-muscle invasive transitional cell carcinoma of the urothelium, or autoimmune disease or a medical condition that required immunosuppression.

Patients received Keytruda 200 mg every three weeks until unacceptable toxicity, persistent or recurrent high-risk NMIBC, or progressive disease. Assessment of tumor status was performed every 12 weeks for two years and then every 24 weeks for three years, and patients without disease progression could be treated for up to 24 months. The major efficacy outcome measures were complete response (as defined by negative results for cystoscopy [with TURBT/biopsies as applicable], urine cytology, and computed tomography urography [CTU] imaging) and duration of response.

The study population characteristics were: median age 73 years (range: 44 to 92); 44% age ≥75; 84% male; 67% White; and 73% and 27% with an ECOG performance status of 0 or 1, respectively. Tumor pattern at study entry was CIS with T1 (13%), CIS with high grade TA (25%), and CIS (63%). Baseline high-risk NMIBC disease status was 27% persistent and 73% recurrent. The median number of prior instillations of BCG was 12.

The median follow-up time was 28.0 months (range: 4.6 to 40.5 months). Keytruda demonstrated a complete response rate of 41% (range: 31 to 51). Among the 39 patients who achieved a complete response, the median duration of response was 16.2 months (range: 0.0+ to 30.4+), and 46% (n=18) had a response of 12 months or longer.

The safety of Keytruda was investigated in KEYNOTE-057, which enrolled 148 patients with high-risk NMIBC, 96 of whom had BCG-unresponsive CIS with or without papillary tumors. The median duration of exposure to Keytruda was 4.3 months (range: 1 day to 25.6 months).

Keytruda was discontinued due to adverse reactions in 11% of patients. The most common adverse reaction (>1%) resulting in permanent discontinuation of Keytruda was pneumonitis (1.4%). Adverse reactions leading to interruption of Keytruda occurred in 22% of patients; the most common (≥2%) were diarrhea (4%) and urinary tract infection (2%). Serious adverse reactions occurred in 28% of Keytruda-treated patients. The most frequent serious adverse reactions (≥2%) in Keytruda-treated patients were pneumonia (3%), cardiac ischemia (2%), colitis (2%), pulmonary embolism (2%), sepsis (2%), and urinary tract infection (2%). The most common adverse reactions (≥20%) with Keytruda were fatigue (29%), diarrhea (24%) and rash (24%).

About Keytruda

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 1,000 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

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 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. More information is available by calling 855-257-3932 or visiting

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 support. For further information and to sign up, eligible patients may call 85-Keytruda (855-398-7832) or visit

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 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 ( ).

Please see Prescribing Information for Keytruda at and Medication Guide for Keytruda at

Source: Merck & Co., Inc.

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