European Commission Approves Two New Regimens of Merck’s KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) as First-Line Treatment for Metastatic or Unresectable Recurrent Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC)

KEYTRUDA is the First Anti-PD-1 Therapy Approved in Europe for the First-Line Treatment of Head and Neck Cancer as Monotherapy or in Combination with Chemotherapy, in Patients Whose Tumors Express PD-L1 (CPS ≥1)

Approval Based on Significant Overall Survival Findings from Phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 Trial

KENILWORTH, NJ, USA I November 20, 2019 I Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, today announced that the European Commission has approved KEYTRUDA, Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as monotherapy or in combination with platinum and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) chemotherapy, for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic or unresectable recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) whose tumors express PD-L1 (combined positive score [CPS] ≥1). This approval is based on findings from the pivotal Phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 trial, in which KEYTRUDA, compared with standard treatment (cetuximab with carboplatin or cisplatin plus 5-FU), demonstrated a significant improvement in overall survival (OS) as monotherapy (HR = 0.74 [95% CI, (0.61-0.90); p=0.00133] and in combination with chemotherapy (HR=0.65 [95% CI, 0.53-0.80]; p=0.00002), in patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1 (CPS ≥1).

“This disease is especially debilitating since it can be highly visible and affect a patient’s appearance and their daily functions, such as eating and speaking,” said Professor Kevin Harrington, investigator for KEYNOTE-048, professor of biological cancer therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and consultant clinical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. “Considering the great need for new treatment options, we are encouraged by today’s KEYTRUDA approval in Europe, which will allow certain patients to be treated with immunotherapy earlier in the course of their treatment.”

This approval allows marketing of the KEYTRUDA monotherapy and combination regimen in all 28 EU member states plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway.

“KEYTRUDA is now the first anti-PD-1 treatment option in the first-line setting for metastatic or unresectable recurrent head and neck cancer, a disease that has been treated the same way in the EU for more than a decade,” said Dr. Jonathan Cheng, vice president, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories. “The European Commission approval underscores our commitment to transforming the way cancer is treated around the world.”

Data Supporting the European Approval

This approval is based on data from the Phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 trial, a multi-center, randomized, open-label, active-controlled trial conducted in 882 patients with histologically confirmed metastatic or recurrent HNSCC of the oral cavity, pharynx or larynx, who had not previously received systemic therapy for recurrent or metastatic disease and who were considered incurable by local therapies. Randomization was stratified by tumor PD-L1 expression (Tumor Proportion Score [TPS] ≥50% or <50%), HPV status (positive or negative), and ECOG Performance Status (PS) (0 vs. 1). The dual primary endpoints were OS and progression-free survival (PFS). Patients were randomized 1:1:1 to one of the following treatment arms:

  • KEYTRUDA 200 mg intravenously every three weeks;
  • KEYTRUDA 200 mg intravenously every three weeks, carboplatin AUC 5 mg/mL/min intravenously every three weeks or cisplatin 100 mg/m2 intravenously every three weeks and 5-FU 1000 mg/m2/day as a continuous intravenous infusion over 96 hours every three weeks (maximum of six cycles of platinum and 5-FU);
  • Cetuximab 400 mg/m2 intravenously as the initial dose then 250 mg/m2 intravenously once weekly, carboplatin AUC 5 mg/mL/min intravenously every three weeks or cisplatin 100 mg/m2 intravenously every three weeks and 5-FU 1000 mg/m2/day as a continuous intravenous infusion over 96 hours every three weeks (maximum of six cycles of platinum and 5-FU).

Treatment with KEYTRUDA continued until RECIST v1.1-defined progression of disease as determined by the investigator, unacceptable toxicity or a maximum of 24 months.

 
Efficacy Results for KEYTRUDA as Monotherapy in KEYNOTE-048 with PD-L1 Expression
(CPS ≥1)
Endpoint  

KEYTRUDA

n=257

 

Standard

Treatment*

n=255

OS
Number (%) of patients with event   197 (77%)   229 (90%)
Median in months (95% CI)   12.3 (10.8, 14.3)   10.3 (9.0, 11.5)
Hazard ratio (95% CI)   0.74 (0.61, 0.90)
p-Value   0.00133
PFS
Number (%) of patients with event   228 (89%)   237 (93%)
Median in months (95% CI)   3.2 (2.2, 3.4)   5.0 (4.8, 6.0)
Hazard ratio (95% CI)   1.13 (0.94, 1.36)
p-Value   0.89580
ORR
Objective response rate§ (95% CI)   19.1% (14.5, 24.4)   35% (29.1, 41.1)
Complete response   5%   3%
Partial response   14%   32%
p-Value   1.0000
Duration of Response
Median in months (range)   23.4 (1.5+, 43.0+)   4.5 (1.2+, 38.7+)
% with duration ≥6 months   81%   36%
* Cetuximab, platinum, and 5-FU
Based on the stratified Cox proportional hazard model
Based on stratified log-rank test
§ Response: Best objective response as confirmed complete response or partial response
Based on Miettinen and Nurminen method stratified by ECOG (0 vs. 1), HPV status (positive vs. negative) and PD-L1 status (strongly positive vs. not strongly positive)
Efficacy Results for KEYTRUDA plus Chemotherapy in KEYNOTE-048 with PD-L1 Expression
(CPS ≥1)
Endpoint  

KEYTRUDA +

Platinum Chemotherapy +

5-FU

n=242

 

Standard

Treatment*

n=235

OS
Number (%) of patients with event   177 (73%)   213 (91%)
Median in months (95% CI)   13.6 (10.7, 15.5)   10.4 (9.1, 11.7)
Hazard ratio (95% CI)   0.65 (0.53, 0.80)
p-Value   0.00002
PFS
Number (%) of patients with event   212 (88%)   221 (94%)
Median in months (95% CI)   5.1 (4.7, 6.2)   5.0 (4.8, 6.0)
Hazard ratio (95% CI)   0.84 (0.69, 1.02)
p-Value   0.03697
ORR
Objective response rate§ (95% CI)   36% (30.3, 42.8)   36% (29.6, 42.2)
Complete response   7%   3%
Partial response   30%   33%
p-Value   0.4586
Duration of Response
Median in months (range)   6.7 (1.6+, 39.0+)   4.3 (1.2+, 31.5+)
% with duration ≥6 months   54%   34%
* Cetuximab, platinum, and 5-FU
Based on the stratified Cox proportional hazard model
Based on stratified log-rank test
§ Response: Best objective response as confirmed complete response or partial response
Based on Miettinen and Nurminen method stratified by ECOG (0 vs. 1), HPV status (positive vs. negative) and PD-L1 status (strongly positive vs. not strongly positive

The safety of KEYTRUDA as monotherapy has been evaluated in 5,884 patients with advanced melanoma, resected Stage III melanoma (adjuvant therapy), non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), classical Hodgkin lymphoma, urothelial carcinoma, or HNSCC across four doses (2 mg/kg every 3 weeks, 200 mg every 3 weeks, or 10 mg/kg every 2 or 3 weeks) in clinical studies. In this patient population, the median observation time was 7.3 months (range: 1 day to 31 months) and the most frequent adverse reactions with KEYTRUDA were fatigue (32%), nausea (20%), and diarrhea (20%). The majority of adverse reactions reported for monotherapy were of Grades 1 or 2 severity. The most serious adverse reactions were immune-related adverse reactions and severe infusion-related reactions.

The safety of KEYTRUDA in combination with chemotherapy has been evaluated in 1,067 patients with NSCLC or HNSCC receiving 200 mg, 2 mg/kg or 10 mg/kg KEYTRUDA every 3 weeks, in clinical studies. In this patient population, the most frequent adverse reactions were anemia (50%), nausea (50%), fatigue (37%), constipation (35%), diarrhea (30%), neutropenia (30%), decreased appetite (28%) and vomiting (25%). Incidences of Grades 3-5 adverse reactions in patients with NSCLC were 67% for KEYTRUDA combination therapy and 66% for chemotherapy alone and in patients with HNSCC were 85% for KEYTRUDA combination therapy and 84% for chemotherapy plus cetuximab.

About Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer describes a number of different tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses and mouth. Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that begin in the flat, squamous cells that make up the thin surface layer of the structures in the head and neck. Two substances that greatly increase the risk of developing head and neck cancer are tobacco and alcohol. It is estimated that there were more than 705,000 new cases of head and neck cancer diagnosed and over 358,000 deaths from the disease worldwide in 2018. In Europe, it is estimated that there were more than 146,000 newly diagnosed cases of head and neck cancer and around 66,000 deaths from the disease in 2018.

About KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) Injection

KEYTRUDA is an anti-PD-1 therapy that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells. KEYTRUDA is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2, thereby activating T lymphocytes which may affect both tumor cells and healthy cells.

Merck has the industry’s largest immuno-oncology clinical research program. There are currently more than 1,000 trials studying KEYTRUDA across a wide variety of cancers and treatment settings. The KEYTRUDA clinical program seeks to understand the role of KEYTRUDA across cancers and the factors that may predict a patient’s likelihood of benefitting from treatment with KEYTRUDA, including exploring several different biomarkers.

Selected Indications for KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) in the U.S.

Melanoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma.

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the adjuvant treatment of patients with melanoma with involvement of lymph node(s) following complete resection.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

KEYTRUDA, in combination with pemetrexed and platinum chemotherapy, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), with no EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations.

KEYTRUDA, in combination with carboplatin and either paclitaxel or paclitaxel protein-bound, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic squamous NSCLC.

KEYTRUDA, as a single agent, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with NSCLC expressing PD-L1 [tumor proportion score (TPS) ≥1%] as determined by an FDA-approved test, with no EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations, and is stage III where patients are not candidates for surgical resection or definitive chemoradiation, or metastatic.

KEYTRUDA, as a single agent, is indicated for the treatment of patients with metastatic NSCLC whose tumors express PD-L1 (TPS ≥1%) as determined by an FDA-approved test, with disease progression on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy. Patients with EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations should have disease progression on FDA-approved therapy for these aberrations prior to receiving KEYTRUDA.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with metastatic small cell lung cancer (SCLC) with disease progression on or after platinum-based chemotherapy and at least one other prior line of therapy. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in confirmatory trials.

Head and Neck Squamous Cell Cancer

KEYTRUDA, in combination with platinum and fluorouracil (FU), is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

KEYTRUDA, as a single agent, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent HNSCC whose tumors express PD-L1 [combined positive score (CPS) ≥1] as determined by an FDA-approved test.

KEYTRUDA, as a single agent, is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent or metastatic HNSCC with disease progression on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL), or who have relapsed after 3 or more prior lines of therapy. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Primary Mediastinal Large B-Cell Lymphoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with refractory primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL), or who have relapsed after 2 or more prior lines of therapy. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in confirmatory trials. KEYTRUDA is not recommended for the treatment of patients with PMBCL who require urgent cytoreductive therapy.

Urothelial Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (mUC) who are not eligible for cisplatin-containing chemotherapy and whose tumors express PD-L1 [CPS ≥10] as determined by an FDA-approved test, or in patients who are not eligible for any platinum-containing chemotherapy regardless of PD-L1 status. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and duration of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (mUC) who have disease progression during or following platinum-containing chemotherapy or within 12 months of neoadjuvant or adjuvant treatment with platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Microsatellite Instability-High (MSI-H) Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with unresectable or metastatic microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR).

  • solid tumors that have progressed following prior treatment and who have no satisfactory alternative treatment options, or
  • colorectal cancer that has progressed following treatment with fluoropyrimidine, oxaliplatin, and irinotecan.

This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials. The safety and effectiveness of KEYTRUDA in pediatric patients with MSI-H central nervous system cancers have not been established.

Gastric Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) adenocarcinoma whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥1) as determined by an FDA-approved test, with disease progression on or after two or more prior lines of therapy including fluoropyrimidine- and platinum-containing chemotherapy and if appropriate, HER2/neu-targeted therapy. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Esophageal Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥10) as determined by an FDA-approved test, with disease progression after one or more prior lines of systemic therapy.

Cervical Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer with disease progression on or after chemotherapy whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥1) as determined by an FDA-approved test. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) who have been previously treated with sorafenib. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Renal Cell Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA, in combination with axitinib, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

Merck’s Focus on Cancer

Our goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At Merck, the potential to bring new hope to people with cancer drives our purpose and supporting accessibility to our cancer medicines is our commitment. As part of our focus on cancer, Merck is committed to exploring the potential of immuno-oncology with one of the largest development programs in the industry across more than 30 tumor types. We also continue to strengthen our portfolio through strategic acquisitions and are prioritizing the development of several promising oncology candidates with the potential to improve the treatment of advanced cancers. For more information about our oncology clinical trials, visit www.merck.com/clinicaltrials. For more information, visit www.merck.com and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

About Merck

For more than a century, Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, Merck continues to be at the forefront of research to advance the prevention and treatment of diseases that threaten people and communities around the world - including cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases, emerging animal diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and infectious diseases including HIV and Ebola.

SOURCE: Merck

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