European Commission Approves KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) as First-Line Treatment in Adult Patients With Metastatic Microsatellite Instability-High (MSI-H) or Mismatch Repair Deficient (dMMR) Colorectal Cancer

KEYTRUDA Is First Checkpoint Inhibitor Approved in Europe to Treat MSI-H or dMMR Colorectal Cancer

European Approval Based on Results From KEYNOTE-177 Trial Demonstrating KEYTRUDA Significantly Reduced Risk of Disease Progression or Death by 40% Compared With Chemotherapy

KENILWORTH, NJ, USA I January 26, 2021 I Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, announced today that the European Commission has approved KEYTRUDA, Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as a monotherapy for the first-line treatment of adult patients with metastatic microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) colorectal cancer. This approval is based on results from the pivotal Phase 3 KEYNOTE-177 trial, in which KEYTRUDA monotherapy significantly reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 40% (HR=0.60 [95% CI, 0.45-0.80]; p=0.0002) compared with chemotherapy (investigator’s choice: mFOLFOX6 [oxaliplatin, leucovorin and fluorouracil (FU)] with or without bevacizumab or cetuximab; or FOLFIRI [irinotecan, leucovorin and FU] with or without bevacizumab or cetuximab). In the trial, treatment with KEYTRUDA also more than doubled median progression-free survival (PFS) compared with chemotherapy (16.5 months [95% CI, 5.4-32.4] versus 8.2 months [95% CI, 6.1-10.2]). There was a lower incidence of Grade ≥3 treatment-related adverse events (TRAEs) with KEYTRUDA compared with chemotherapy (22% versus 66%), and no new toxicities were observed. This approval marks the first gastrointestinal indication for KEYTRUDA in Europe and makes KEYTRUDA the first anti-PD-1/L1 therapy approved in Europe for these patients.

“Before the KEYNOTE-177 trial, conventional chemotherapy with targeted therapy was the standard of care for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer who have tumors that are MSI-H/dMMR,” said Dr. Thierry Andre, professor of medical oncology at Sorbonne University and head of the medical oncology department at St. Antoine Hospital, Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Paris. “With this approval, patients with metastatic colorectal cancer that is MSI-H or dMMR status will gain a monotherapy treatment option that has shown superior progression-free survival compared to standard of care chemotherapy.”

“This decision by the European Commission, which was based on the important findings from KEYNOTE-177, exemplifies our commitment to using biomarkers such as MSI/MMR to help identify patients who are most likely to respond to KEYTRUDA,” said Dr. Scot Ebbinghaus, vice president, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories. “Our efforts in biomarker-driven research across tumor types – including colorectal cancer, the most common type of gastrointestinal cancer – will continue to help us bring new options to patients across the globe.”

This approval allows marketing of KEYTRUDA monotherapy in all 27 European Union (EU) member states plus Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Northern Ireland. Following Brexit, in line with the reliance route, this approval is also valid in Great Britain.

Data Supporting the European Approval

The approval was based on data from KEYNOTE-177, a multi-center, randomized, open-label, active-controlled trial that enrolled 307 patients with previously untreated metastatic MSI-H or dMMR colorectal cancer. Microsatellite instability (MSI) or mismatch repair (MMR) tumor status was determined locally using polymerase chain reaction or immunohistochemistry, respectively. Patients with autoimmune disease or a medical condition that required immunosuppression were ineligible.

Patients were randomized 1:1 to receive KEYTRUDA (200 mg intravenously) every three weeks or investigator’s choice of the following chemotherapy regimens given intravenously every two weeks:

  • mFOLFOX6 (oxaliplatin, leucovorin and FU) or mFOLFOX6 in combination with either bevacizumab or cetuximab: oxaliplatin 85 mg/m2, leucovorin 400 mg/m2 (or levoleucovorin 200 mg/m2), and FU 400 mg/m2 bolus on Day 1, then FU 2,400 mg/m2 over 46-48 hours; plus bevacizumab 5 mg/kg on Day 1 or cetuximab 400 mg/m2 on first infusion, then 250 mg/m2 weekly
  • FOLFIRI (irinotecan, leucovorin, and FU) or FOLFIRI in combination with either bevacizumab or cetuximab: irinotecan 180 mg/m2, leucovorin 400 mg/m2 (or levoleucovorin 200 mg/m2), and FU 400 mg/m2 bolus on Day 1, then FU 2,400 mg/m2 over 46-48 hours; plus bevacizumab 5 mg/kg on Day 1 or cetuximab 400 mg/m2 on first infusion, then 250 mg/m2 weekly

Treatment with KEYTRUDA or chemotherapy continued until Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors (RECIST) v1.1-defined progression of disease as determined by the investigator or unacceptable toxicity. Patients treated with KEYTRUDA without disease progression could be treated for up to 24 months. Assessment of tumor status was performed every nine weeks. Patients randomized to chemotherapy were offered KEYTRUDA at the time of disease progression. The main efficacy outcome measure was PFS as assessed by blinded independent central review (BICR) according to RECIST v1.1, modified to follow a maximum of 10 target lesions and a maximum of five target lesions per organ, and overall survival (OS). Additional efficacy outcome measures were objective response rate (ORR) and duration of response (DOR).

In this trial, KEYTRUDA monotherapy significantly reduced the risk of disease progression or death from any cause by 40% (HR=0.60 [95% CI, 0.45-0.80]; p=0.0002) and showed a median PFS of 16.5 months (95% CI, 5.4-32.4) compared with 8.2 months (95% CI, 6.1-10.2) for patients treated with chemotherapy. For PFS, in the KEYTRUDA arm, there were 82 patients (54%) with an event versus 113 patients (73%) in the chemotherapy arm. Overall survival analysis is ongoing. For patients treated with KEYTRUDA, the ORR was 44% (95% CI, 35.8-52.0), with a complete response rate of 11% and a partial response rate of 33%. For patients treated with chemotherapy, the ORR was 33% (95% CI, 25.8-41.1), with a complete response rate of 4% and a partial response rate of 29%. Median DOR was not reached (range, 2.3+ to 41.4+) with KEYTRUDA versus 10.6 months (range, 2.8 to 37.5+) with chemotherapy. Based on 67 patients with a response in the KEYTRUDA arm and 51 patients with a response in the chemotherapy arm, 85% in the KEYTRUDA arm had a duration of response greater than or equal to 12 months versus 44% in the chemotherapy arm.

Among the 153 patients with MSI-H or dMMR colorectal cancer treated with KEYTRUDA, the median duration of exposure to KEYTRUDA was 11.1 months (range, 1 day to 30.6 months). Adverse reactions occurring in patients with MSI-H or dMMR colorectal cancer were similar to those occurring in 2,799 patients with melanoma or non-small cell lung cancer treated with KEYTRUDA as a single agent.

About Microsatellite Instability-High

Microsatellite instability (or MSI) is defined by the National Cancer Institute as a change that occurs in the DNA of certain cells, such as tumor cells, in which the number of microsatellite repeats (short, repeated sequences of DNA) is different from the number of repeats that was in the DNA when it was inherited. The cause of MSI may be a defect in the ability to repair mistakes made when DNA is copied in the cell. This defect is also referred to as mismatch repair deficiency (dMMR).

About Colorectal Cancer in Europe

Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum, and these cancers are referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer depending on where the cancer starts. Colorectal cancer often begins with growths on the inner lining of the colon or rectum called polyps, which can change into cancer over time. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Worldwide, it is estimated there were more than 1,930,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in 2020. In Europe, it is estimated there were nearly 520,000 new cases of colorectal cancer. It is estimated approximately 4-20% of colorectal cancer patients (inclusive of all stages of disease) have tumors that score as either MSI-H or dMMR when testing is performed.

About KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) Injection, 100 mg

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 1,300 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 KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) Indications 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 1 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 patients with relapsed or refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL).

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of pediatric patients with refractory cHL, or cHL that has relapsed after 2 or more lines of therapy.

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. KEYTRUDA is not recommended for 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 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.

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG)-unresponsive, high-risk, non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) with carcinoma in situ (CIS) with or without papillary tumors who are ineligible for or have elected not to undergo cystectomy.

Microsatellite Instability-High or Mismatch Repair Deficient 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.

Microsatellite Instability-High or Mismatch Repair Deficient Colorectal Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic MSI-H or dMMR colorectal cancer (CRC).

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 (MCC). 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).

Tumor Mutational Burden-High

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with unresectable or metastatic tumor mutational burden-high (TMB-H) [≥10 mutations/megabase] solid tumors, as determined by an FDA-approved test, that have progressed following prior treatment and who have no satisfactory alternative treatment options. 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 TMB-H central nervous system cancers have not been established.

Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent or metastatic cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) that is not curable by surgery or radiation.

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

KEYTRUDA, in combination with chemotherapy, is indicated for the treatment of patients with locally recurrent unresectable or metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥10) as determined by an FDA-approved test. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on progression-free survival. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

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.

About Merck

For 130 years, Merck, 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 in pursuit of our mission to save and improve lives. We demonstrate our commitment to patients and population health by increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, Merck continues to be at the forefront of research to prevent and treat diseases that threaten people and animals – including cancer, infectious diseases such as HIV and Ebola, and emerging animal diseases – as we aspire to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company in the world. For more information, visit www.merck.com and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

SOURCE: Merck

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