Using Keytruda to treat lung cancer was recently approved in the European Union after a study demonstrated that this immunotherapy drug reduced the risk of death by 36%.

Cancer is a devastating disease, and in Europe, lung cancer is one of the most deadly forms of the disease.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Europe,” said Dr. Luis Paz-Ares, chair of the medical oncology department, Hospital Universitario Doce de Octubre, Madrid, Spain. “So this approval marks an important milestone for the patients and families facing this difficult-to-treat type of lung cancer.”

Finally, there is a new first-line treatment for lung cancer patients that can be taken in tandem with chemotherapy to improve survival times.

While Keytruda has not shown to be as successful as immunotherapy for mesothelioma as it is at treating lung cancer, the fact that it was studied as a potential mesothelioma treatment is a crucial stepping stone on the quest for a cure.

Researchers now know more about the disease and how it responds to different treatments. Scientists can now create better, more tailored drugs.

What Is Keytruda Immunotherapy?

Keytruda is an immunotherapy drug. Immunotherapy drugs work with the cancer patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells by teaching the white blood cells to recognize cancer cells as a threat.

Immunotherapy drugs give white cells an antibody boost, so they are better able to fight the cancer cells.

Keytruda targets a protein called Programmed Death-Ligand 1 (PD-L1). PD-L1s are in everyone’s body and are part of our built-in safety program. Their job is to make sure that white blood cells don’t become out of control and destroy healthy tissues.

However, when a person has cancer — like lung cancer or mesothelioma — their body produces too many PD-L1s.

With too many PDL-1s, the white blood cells stop working, and won’t know to destroy the cancer cells. For lung cancer patients, Keytruda can stop the PD-L1s from shutting down white blood cells. This allows them to recognize cancer cells as harmful and kill them off.

Keytruda for Lung Cancer

Keytruda has officially been approved as a first-line treatment for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

For patients who meet specific requirements — for example, their tumors have no epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), or anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) positive mutations — Keytruda can be used on its own or in combination with chemotherapy.

The approval came after data from a phase 3 clinical trial demonstrated that the drug drastically improved the overall survival rate of patients with lung cancer.

Regardless of how many PD-L1s are in a patient’s body, Keytruda can decrease their risk of dying by 36%.

Keytruda and Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Unfortunately, an American Phase 2 study did not see the same significant outcomes for mesothelioma. Ultimately, the decision was made to pull the study.

The American research demonstrated that Keytruda is safe for mesothelioma patients, but that it doesn’t do anything to slow the disease progression.

When the patients in the Phase 2 trial were analyzed, only one patient had their cancer stabilized. Keytruda was able to prevent the disease from worsening for only an initial eight weeks.

However, Keytruda is being investigated all over the world for lung cancer and mesothelioma, and the results have varied depending on the study or trial. So while the recent American study determined that it was ineffective, a future one could have different results.

For example, a future study might look at combining Keytruda with a different immunotherapy drug.

Current Research on Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

A current study that does that combines immunotherapy drugs is the CA-170 Phase 1 study.

The researchers realized that targeting just PD-L1s was not having the effect they thought it would, so they took their PD-L1 antibody and combined it with a different drug that targeted V-domain Ig suppressor of T cell activation (VISTA) to see if that would have more of an effect.

Another immunotherapy drug that is showing promise for mesothelioma patients is CAR T-cell therapy, which redirects and reprograms the white blood cells (t-cells) in mesothelin (a protein in mesothelioma patients).

In that Phase 1 trial, a 73-year-old patient stopped needing additional treatments because his white blood cells began to destroy the cancerous cells on their own.

If you are interested in learning more about clinical trials or accessing clinical trials, contact our Patient Advocates today.

We can help you get matched with mesothelioma doctors and cancer centers holding mesothelioma clinical trials on new targeted immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda.

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Written by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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  1. “New lung cancer indication for Keytruda combo OK’d in EU,” PharmaTimes. Retrieved from: Accessed April 8, 2019.

  2. “Phase 2 Clinical Trial of CRS-207, Keytruda Combo for MPM is Discontinued,” Immuno-Oncology News. Retrieved from: Accessed April 8, 2019.

  3. “Immune system therapy shows wider promise against cancer,” Rossland News. Retrieved from: Accessed April 8, 2019.

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