The Food and Drug Administration approved Keytruda as a adjuvant treatment in January 2018, when it was first used to treat some types of small cell lung cancer. Now, it’s been approved to treat kidney cancer.
Keytruda is a so-called PD-1 inhibitor — which blocks cancer cells from impeding the immune system’s ability to attack them. Around 1,050 Americans die of kidney cancer every year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Some scientists believe that drugs that work on the immune system might be a better way to treat cancer than traditional treatments like chemotherapy. The worry about cancer cells, known as “leukemia promoters,” is that the body has trouble removing them. The drug Keytruda works by blocking the action of leukemia promoters, in some cases blocking them completely, and in other cases reducing the amount of a particular protein on cancer cells.
One drawback of using an experimental drug as an adjuvant treatment is that it does not work as well in cases of advanced kidney cancer or for patients who have had a poor prognosis because of existing therapies.
In this case, the approval is a big win for Merck, the company that made Keytruda. The drug had been used as an in-house treatment on its own and it has also been shown to be able to treat many types of cancer and prevent their spread. The approval comes a few months after the FDA allowed KEYTRUDA to be used as part of combination treatment with chemotherapy for some forms of lung cancer and melanoma, but the FDA has not yet approved any treatment that incorporates Keytruda as an adjuvant.
Merck executives are hoping that this increase in approval might lead to more trials of an adjuvant treatment.
Read the full story at The Conversation.
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