On October 2, 2015, the FDA announced the approval of Merck’s Keytruda for use in patients who have advanced non-small cell lung cancer and tried other treatment methods that have proven ineffective. This is the most common type of lung cancer; according to the FDA, lung cancer has claimed nearly 160,000 lives this year alone. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 220,000 new cases have been diagnosed in 2015.
In a nutshell, Keytruda works by inhibiting a protein known as PD-L1, helping the immune system fight cancerous cells. According to an FDA press release announcing the approval of the drug, Keytruda was approved under the agency’s accelerated approval program. This basically means that the drug was approved because clinical data indicated it could be beneficial to patients. Accelerated approval means that patients can gain access to the drug while further clinical trials are performed.
Keytruda was shown to be effective in shrinking tumors in 75 percent of mesothelioma patients who participated in a clinical trial earlier this year. That is why many people who have the disease are hoping Keytruda will soon be approved to treat mesothelioma as well.
While it is far too early to tell whether that will happen, at least there is hope.