European Commission Approves Pembrolizumab for Advanced Melanoma

“The European Commission has approved the PD-1 inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda) as a treatment for adult patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma in the first-line and previously treated settings, based on data from 3 clinical trials that assessed the medication in more than 1500 patients.

“The European Commission decision follows a recommendation from Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use, and allows for the medication to be marketed across 28 European Union member states. The medication is approved at a dose of 2 mg/kg every 3 weeks. In the 834-patient phase III KEYNOTE-006 study, pembrolizumab demonstrated an extension in overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS) compared with ipilimumab. Additionally, in the 540-patient phase II KEYNOTE-002 study, pembrolizumab improved PFS versus chemotherapy, with OS data pending maturity.

“ ‘Today’s European approval supports our goal of accelerating immuno-oncology research for the benefit of patients around the world,’ Roger M. Perlmutter, MD, PhD, president, Merck Research Laboratories, said in a statement. ‘We believe that the broad data set supporting this approval helps illustrate the significant potential of Keytruda to treat advanced melanoma, a devastating disease.’ “


UPDATE 2-Bristol's Opdivo Proves Effective Against Second Type of Lung Cancer

“A large study of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co’s Opdivo treatment has been halted after proving the drug is effective against the most common form of lung cancer, the company said, positioning the medicine for far wider use than its already approved lung cancer and melanoma indications.

“The U.S. drugmaker on Friday said the study, called Checkmate-057, was stopped early after an independent data monitoring committee concluded that Opdivo provided a survival advantage over docetaxel, a standard chemotherapy, among patients with previously treated non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

“The so-called PD-1 inhibitor, which works by taking the brakes off the immune system, was approved by U.S. regulators last month to treat the less-common “squamous” form of NSCLC that had spread following treatment with chemotherapy.

“Opdivo is also approved for use against metastatic melanoma following treatment with Yervoy, another Bristol-Myers immuno-therapy.”


ASCO: Targeting PD-1 Works in Advanced Melanoma

“Two studies indicate that using investigative immunotherapy drugs improves survival and response in patients with metastatic melanoma, researchers said here.

“In one study, the agent pembrolizumab (MK-3475) which targets the programmed death (PD-1) pathway produced a 1-year 69% survival rate, said Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles.

“In a second study reported in a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Mario Sznol, MD, professor of medicine at the Yale Cancer Center, demonstrated that a combination of the investigative PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab in combination with another targeted agent ipilimumab (Yervoy) produced a 1-year survival rate of 85% and 2-year survival rate of 79% for advanced melanoma patients.”

Editor’s note: Immunotherapy drugs boost a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. Promising research into new immunotherapy drugs for melanoma was recently presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. Two treatments that received special attention were MK-3475 (aka pembrolizumab) and a combination of the drugs ipilimumab (Yervoy) and nivolumab.


At Last, Success Seen in Fighting Cancer with the Immune System

“Fundamental research — much of it done in Boston — has led to a shift in the scientific strategy for fighting some cancers, toward using drugs to activate a patient’s own immune system. An approach that was on the fringes of cancer therapy is suddenly the hottest trend in cancer drug development. On Monday, for example, Boston researchers presented data showing that nearly half of patients with advanced melanoma lived for two years after getting an experimental immune therapy called nivolumab, though multiple other therapies hadn’t worked for them. And drug companies have announced several deals recently to acquire companies developing immunotherapies. The frenzy of activity is an abrupt change for a field that had made big promises but failed to deliver for years.”


Killing Cancer through the Immune System

“The immune system has this blind spot by design – an immune system that has an ability to attack itself leads to autoimmune diseases, so as protection, it screens out its own tissue.

“For decades, scientists assumed that cancer was beyond the reach of the body’s natural defenses. But after decades of skepticism that the immune system could be trained to root out and eliminate these malignant cells, a new generation of drugs is proving otherwise.

“The treatment consists of infusing antibodies that enhance the immune system to recognize cancer cells and attack it. What’s more, since the immune system has a built-in memory, it continues to go after cancer cells, so the response can be longer lasting and more complete.

“The trick is that this treatment doesn’t work for everybody, and researchers don’t yet understand why. But when it does work, the results have been particularly impressive.”