- Merck's Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo helped to extend life in advanced melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer, respectively, according to new data released ahead of the American Society for Clinical Oncology's annual meeting next month.
- After two years, 55% of patients with advanced melanoma treated with Keytruda in a phase 3 trial were still alive, compared to 43% of patients receiving Yervoy, an earlier immunotherapy from Bristol-Myers. In another study, an estimated 40% of 655 melanoma patients were still alive three years after being treated with the immunotherapy.
- Opdivo, on the other hand, showed a greater benefit in prolonging life for patients with squamous and non-squamos non-small cell lung cancer than a standard chemotherapy regimen.
Keytruda and Opdivo are the first two anti-PD1 drugs to be approved in the U.S. and represent both the promise and challenges associated with immunotherapies. As the new data helps show, both can result in very real benefit for patients with tough cancers. Yet not all patients experience the same benefit.
Patients with higher levels of PD1/PDL1 expression on tumor cells seem to benefit more from the immunotherapies, but not absolutely so. In Bristol-Myers' Checkmate-057 study for example, patients with higher than 10% PD-L1 expression rate were more likely to live past two years.
A number of companies, including Merck and Bristol-Myers, are experimenting with combination therapies to help boost the response rate across a greater share of patients.
And the immunotherapy field grew a little bigger this week with the approval of Roche's PD-L1 inhibitor Tecentriq for treatment of a common type of bladder cancer. PD-L1 inhibitors are close cousins to Merck and Bristol's PD1 inhibitors.
So far, Opdvio has jumped to an early lead in both global sales and number of indications but Keytruda, and now Tecentriq, are in development for an array of intersecting indications as well.