Pembrolizumab, a drug that helps destroy cancer cells by working with the immune system, has been fully approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is very good news for mesothelioma patients because clinical trials of the immunotherapy drug, marketed as Keytruda by Merck & Company, have shown considerable promise. One patient, who was treated in Philadelphia at the Abramson Cancer Center, credits Keytruda for his amazing recovery. He has been called a mesothelioma survivor, a term rarely heard prior to pembrolizumab.
Prior to the recent expansion of Keytruda use as a treatment for cancer, the drug had been approved, but with restrictions. The FDA previously allowed use of pembrolizumab for cancer patients with tumors displaying the PD-L1 protein. This protein is present in most cancers, but only about half of mesothelioma patients. In addition, the drug had previously only been allowed for use by itself. The new approval opens the door for its use in combination with chemotherapy drugs.
This is important because research into non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) indicates that when Keytruda is used in combination with chemotherapy, nearly double the patients respond well with the combination when compared to those only being treated with chemotherapy. Survival time and progression-free survival also increased in patients receiving the combination treatment.
Other studies are showing promise as well. One clinical trial reported half of their mesothelioma patients experienced tumor reduction while taking Keytruda. Additionally, the disease progression increased to six months.
Another found that pembrolizumab seems to be very effective in certain cases, but cautioned that more data is needed before fully accepting the immunotherapy drug as the best option for treating pleural mesothelioma.
Keytruda is not without side effects. The most common include fatigue, nausea, and constipation and there was a notable increase in serious side effects. One of the most alarming is that 10 percent of those receiving pembrolizumab suffered acute kidney problems when use was discontinued.
Still, many believe Keytruda could become the cancer treatment of choice for many. However, the lead researcher, Dr. Corey Langer advised treating physicians to continue with traditional methods of determining the best treatment for now; to take into consideration the histology, biomarker status, and other individual factors of the patient which could affect treatment response.
If you or someone you love is fighting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related disease, let us help. To arrange a free consultation with an experienced Philadelphia mesothelioma lawyer at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler, call 800-369-0899 or complete our online contact form. We represent clients throughout Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.