A new cancer drug, pembrolizumab (Keytruda), produced encouraging results for melanoma patients. It was approved last year for patients whose melanoma had not responded to ipilimumab (Yervoy).
In the new study, 830 patients with metastatic melanoma were randomly assigned to take Keytruda every two weeks, Keytruda every three weeks or the standard Yervoy regimen. After a year, three-fourths of those who got Keytruda every two weeks were still alive. Just over half of those who got Yervoy had survived.
Early Finish for Study
The study was stopped early because of the significant survival benefit. Keytruda was also associated with fewer side effects than Yervoy.
Lung Cancer Benefit
In another study, Keytruda showed promise against hard-to-treat non-small cell lung cancer.
Although we are still far from curing cancer, the new immunotherapy drugs offer exciting benefits, especially in patients whose genes make them particularly responsive to these medications.
Presented at AACR, Philadelphia, April 19, 2015; New England Journal of Medicine, online Apr. 19, 2015
These results are exciting, but there are concerns about the very high price of these drugs. Can individuals or even society as a whole afford them, or will they send the health care system into bankruptcy? We have written about this topic here. It would be a tragedy if someone had a cancer that could be effectively treated with Keytruda, but died because he could not afford to take it.
photo credit: Yale Rosen https://www.flickr.com/photos/pulmonary_pathology/ cc license cropped