Earlier this month the FDA approved Keytruda, manufactured by Merck, to treat melanoma. Keytruda disrupts the cancer cells that tell the body’s immune system not to attack the cancer cells as intruders. Keytruda, and other drugs in this class are already being tested on other types of cancers including small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma caused by exposure to dangerous asbestos fibers.
Physicians, including Dr. Evan Lipsen, professor of oncology at the prestigious John Hopkins University Medical school, agree that “This is I think the beginning of what will be a fairly significant change in the way that we treat multiple types of cancer in the years and decades to come.” The FDA reports that Keytruda is the first approved drug that blocks a cellular pathway known as PD-1 which restricts the body’s immune system from attacking cancer cells. In effect the drug turns cancer patients immune system back on.
The FDA accelerated approval of Keytruda when Merck presented evidence that this new drug may offer substantial improvement over other therapies. In the results of the clinical trial, nearly 24 percent of the patients had their tumors shrink, lasting up to 8.5 months and for some patients longer. This new ability to target the PD-1 pathway is a very exciting step in the field of immunotherapy.
While Keytruda is only approved in the US for melanoma patients, it is currently undergoing clinical trials throughout the world for other cancers, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. This new drug is shrinking tumors in mesothelioma patients, extending not only their life expectancy but their quality of life as well. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, go to ClinicalTrials.gov to search for clinical trials throughout the US and other countries for this exciting new drug or other drugs in this class of immunotherapy drugs.