Keytruda new drug to fight advanced cancers

Keytruda —A new drug to fight advanced cancers

Diseases, Medication

Among all types of cancer, lung cancer is the number one cause of death worldwide. In Brazil, an estimated 24,000 people die per year from this disease. Just now, and international study was published showing a remarkable benefit with a new immunotherapy drug, Keytruda. This drug has also shown good effects with some other advanced cancers as well, such as melanoma.

Keytruda history

Keytruda (scientific name pembrolizumab), was first developed in 2006. In 2011, the first trials were performed on people with advanced melanomas and lung cancers. Keytruda was first presented to the medical community at a standing-room only audience at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago in 2014.

In 2017, following continued good results, the drug was approved (in the USA, Brazil, and Europe) for a wider range of tumors, including advanced head and neck and bladder cancers, and certain lymphomas.

Published 16 April 2018, in The New England Journal of Medicine, was the global study which included 616 patients from 16 different countries, all with advanced small cell lung cancer (the most common type). This was the largest study released to date and will advance the use of Keytruda in other cancer types as well, such as breast and colon cancer.

Results with Keytruda

This latest study showed that the people with advanced lung cancer who received Keytruda plus standard chemotherapy had a 69% survival rate at one year following diagnosis. The people who received chemotherapy without Keytruda had a 49% survival at one year. While this may not seem like a huge difference, it is considered a breakthrough. This is the first new drug in many years that has shown such a benefit.

Immunotherapy: the future of cancer treatment

Keytruda, along with 3 other similar approved drugs, are monoclonal antibodies that activate our own immune system to kill the cancer cells. This is different than traditional chemotherapy that relies on potent medications, usually with strong side effects, to directly kill the cancer cells. Most cancer researchers are convinced that the future of cancer therapy lies in immunotherapy, often combined with chemotherapy, rather than chemotherapy alone.

How Keytruda works

Pembrolizumab is considered an “immune checkpoint inhibitor”. Certain cancers, in their battle to survive, hide from T-cells, our immune cells that normally would kill the cancer cells. Keytruda unmasks these cancer cells, so our T-cells can destroy them. Keytruda works best in cancers that have a particular genetic profile, no matter where the cancer is located. The drug is only given to people with certain biomarkers in their blood that show that their cancer is susceptible to the drug.

Side effects

While serious side effects, such as kidney damage, are possible, most patients suffer only from milder side effects such as nausea, anemia, and fatigue. One problem is that the cost is huge, over $100,000 per year. Since the drug is approved by ANVISA in Brazil, it should be obtainable for patients with certain cancer types and biomarkers that show that the drug could help.

The future

Keytruda is the first immunotherapy drug to be approved for cancer, and without a doubt, many more will be developed in the coming decade. Immunotherapy is now the number one area of cancer research. Still there is no cure, but research is getting closer. We will keep you updated here.

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See also in ProcuraMed:

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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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