Keytruda and Nivolumab can shorten the time between diagnosis and cancer spreading

Groundbreaking cancer immunotherapy Keytruda and Nivolumab can shorten the time between diagnosis and cancer spreading

The US Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved new diagnostics for a cancer immunotherapy that can be used to extend the time between cancer diagnosis and cancer spreading.

Keytruda and Nivolumab, which cost about $150,000 a year, can be used together as an adjuvant treatment in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who had failed on other medications. The agency approved them for the adjuvant treatment of metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

Research shows that these two drugs, which belong to a class of drugs called PD-1 inhibitors, help cancer cells to become more “unstoppable”, curing patients more quickly with less intensive chemotherapy.

Most patients in clinical trials started with the drugs when their cancer was at an advanced stage and tested on their own but later received a kidney metastasis (plaque buildup in the kidney) that helped the drugs find new targets to hit.

Keytruda, from Merck & Co, can also be used as a first-line therapy in patients with advanced colorectal cancer and advanced melanoma.

“PD-1 inhibitors are changing the treatment landscape for cancer,” said Dr Roger Perlmutter, Merck’s senior vice-president and chief scientific officer, in a statement. “The approval of Keytruda as adjuvant therapy in lung cancer gives us a new opportunity to effectively treat these advanced patients earlier in their disease course.”

Nivolumab from Johnson & Johnson, sold under the brand name Imbruvica, is already approved for treating previously untreated, difficult-to-treat forms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and mantle cell lymphoma. The cancer began to spread after patients had received less than seven months of Imbruvica.

The approval also clears the way for patient insurance to begin covering tests that can identify which patients to use these two drugs. The companies have agreed to give patients a $50 discount on the testing, which takes about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Terri Olson, president of Janssen Oncology Canada Inc, said the approval will help patients with advanced forms of the disease make decisions about whether to try the drugs or receive their own therapy.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer the potential to have access to these two new drug therapies. With this access, patients will benefit from earlier access to the medicines and this will potentially improve their chance of a cure,” Olson said in a statement.

Both drugs belong to a class of immunotherapies called PD-1 inhibitors. Nivolumab and Keytruda work by blocking a protein that the immune system normally sees and attacks. Only cells with the protein can be hit by the drugs.

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