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How Keytruda Lung Cancer Treatment Works

Armen Hareyan's picture
Keytruda lung cancer treatment

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the accelerated approval of Merck's drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for the treatment of advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in patients whose tumors have progressed after other treatments and express PD-L1.


Keytruda is a type of immunotherapy that blocks the PD-1 receptor, which is a part of the pathway that prevents T cells from attacking cancer. PD-L1 is a protein that binds to the PD-1 receptor to activate this pathway.

Keytruda lung cancer treatment was approved based on the results from a subgroup of 61 patients.

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The FDA granted Keytruda breakthrough status in 2014, and it received priority review for this indication. Keytruda was approved under the FDA’s accelerated program. This program is designed to approve drugs that treat patients with serious or life-threatening diseases and show an early effect in clinical trials that is deemed likely to predict a clinical benefit. It allows for patients to get earlier access to promising drugs, while further studies are conducted to confirm the preliminary results.

Every year 160,000 people in the United States die from lung cancer.

“It’s tremendously exciting to give clinicians a new tool for treating patients with advanced NSCLC,” says KEYNOTE-001 investigator and SITC member Naiyer A. Rizvi, MD. “We lose 160,000 Americans to lung cancer every year and immunotherapies such as Keytruda demonstrate scientific progress in developing new approaches that can hold promise for patients who need it most.”

Released by the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC)