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FDA Approves Merck’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for Previously Treated Patients with Recurrent Locally Advanced or Metastatic Gastric or Gastroesophageal Junction Cancer Whose Tumors Express PD-L1

KENILWORTH, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE) September 22, 2017 --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 (pembrolizumab), the company’s anti-PD-1 (programmed death receptor-1) therapy, for the treatment of patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) adenocarcinoma whose tumors express PD-L1 [Combined Positive Score (CPS) ≥1] as determined by an FDA-approved test, with disease progression on or after two or more prior lines of therapy including fluoropyrimidine- and platinum-containing chemotherapy and if appropriate, HER2/neu-targeted therapy. This indication is approved under the FDA’s accelerated approval regulations based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

“Historically, advanced gastric cancer has been particularly challenging to treat, and new treatment options are needed for these patients,” said Charles S. Fuchs, M.D., MPH, lead investigator and director of Yale Cancer Center. “The results observed in the diverse population of heavily pretreated advanced gastric or GEJ patients from the KEYNOTE-059 clinical trial demonstrate that pembrolizumab in the third-line setting has the potential to shift how we care for certain patients facing this difficult-to-treat disease.”

Immune-mediated adverse reactions occurred with Keytruda including pneumonitis, colitis, hepatitis, endocrinopathies, nephritis, and skin adverse reactions. Based on the severity of the adverse reaction, Keytruda (pembrolizumab) should be withheld or discontinued and corticosteroids administered if appropriate. Keytruda can also cause severe or life-threatening infusion-related reactions. Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of infusion-related reactions; for Grade 3 or 4 reactions, stop infusion and permanently discontinue Keytruda. Based on its mechanism of action, Keytruda can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. Female patients of reproductive potential should be advised of the potential hazard to a fetus. For more information regarding immune-mediated and infusion-related adverse reactions and use in pregnancy, see “Selected Important Safety Information” below.

“Keytruda is now the first PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor approved in the United States for previously treated advanced gastric or GEJ cancer, helping to address a recognized treatment gap,” said Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories. “This approval marks another milestone – the tenth new indication for Keytruda in just three years – which further demonstrates both our commitment to patients and the progress we have made in the fight against many cancers.”

Data Supporting the Approval

The accelerated approval for Keytruda was based on data from a global, multicenter, non-randomized, open-label multi-cohort trial, KEYNOTE-059, that enrolled 259 patients with gastric or GEJ adenocarcinoma who progressed on at least two prior systemic treatments for advanced disease. Previous treatment must have included a fluoropyrimidine and platinum doublet; HER2/neu-positive patients must have previously received treatment with approved HER2/neu-targeted therapy. Patients with active autoimmune disease or a medical condition that required immunosuppression or with clinical evidence of ascites by physical exam were ineligible. Patients received Keytruda at a dose of 200 mg every three weeks until unacceptable toxicity or disease progression that was symptomatic, rapidly progressive, required urgent intervention, occurred with a decline in performance status, or was confirmed at least four weeks later with repeat imaging. Patients without disease progression were treated for up to 24 months. Assessment of tumor status was performed every six to nine weeks. The major efficacy outcome measures were objective response rate (ORR) according to the Response Evaluation Criteria In Solid Tumors (RECIST) 1.1, as assessed by independent central review, and duration of response.

Among the 259 patients, 55 percent (n=143) had tumors that expressed PD-L1 with a CPS ≥1 and microsatellite stable (MSS) tumor status or undetermined microsatellite instability (MSI) or mismatch repair (MMR) status. The baseline characteristics of these 143 patients were: median age 64 years (47% age 65 or older); 77 percent male; 82 percent White, 11 percent Asian; and ECOG performance status (PS) of 0 (43%) and 1 (57%). Eighty-five percent had M1 disease and seven percent had M0 disease. Fifty-one percent had two and 49 percent had three or more prior lines of therapy in the recurrent or metastatic setting.

For the 143 patients, the ORR was 13.3 percent (95% CI: 8.2, 20.0) – with a complete response rate of 1.4 percent and a partial response rate of 11.9 percent. Among the 19 responding patients, the duration of response ranged from 2.8+ to 19.4+ months, with 11 patients (58%) having responses of six months or longer and five patients (26%) having responses of 12 months or longer.

Among the 259 patients, 7 (3%) had tumors that were determined to be MSI-High. An objective response was observed in 4 patients, including 1 complete response. The duration of response ranged from 5.3+ to 14.1+ months.

Adverse reactions occurring in patients with gastric cancer were similar to those occurring in patients with melanoma or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The most common adverse reactions for Keytruda (pembrolizumab) (reported in ≥20% of patients) were fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, decreased appetite, pruritis, diarrhea, nausea, rash, pyrexia, cough, dyspnea, and constipation.

Our Focus on Cancer

Our goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At Merck, helping people fight cancer is our passion and supporting accessibility to our cancer medicines is our commitment. Our focus is on pursuing research in immuno-oncology and we are accelerating every step in the journey – from lab to clinic – to potentially bring new hope to people with cancer.

As part of our focus on cancer, Merck is committed to exploring the potential of immuno-oncology with one of the fastest-growing development programs in the industry. We are currently executing an expansive research program evaluating our anti-PD-1 therapy across more than 30 tumor types. We also continue to strengthen our immuno-oncology portfolio through strategic acquisitions and are prioritizing the development of several promising immunotherapeutic 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 2016 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).

Source: Merck

Posted: September 2017

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