This Lung Cancer Drug Could Let Patients Forgo Chemo—And It's Sending Merck's Stock Soaring
Call it “King Keytruda.”
stock spiked nearly 4% in early Monday trading, a gain of nearly $5.75 billion in market value, as investors cheered another victory for the drug giant’s flagship cancer immunotherapy in treating lung cancer. Investigators reported Monday morning that the late-stage trial, KEYNOTE-o42, showed that taking Keytruda alone for lung cancer had significant advantages over taking chemotherapy alone to treat the deadly disease.
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Depending on just how strong the data is (the full number set won’t be released publicly for a bit), that means that patients could potentially bypass chemo and take Keytruda alone, assuming the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on board--an option that could be attractive for lung cancer sufferers who don’t want to deal with the serious side effects of chemotherapy.
Biotech analysts and investors noted the wide-ranging nature of Keytruda’s trial victory, which could expand its existing advantage in the lucrative lung cancer treatment space over rivals like Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMS) Opdivo. The Merck drug reportedly hit its survival extension goals in patients with all kinds of levels of “PD-L1,” the protein type targeted by treatments like Keytruda and Opdivo. Bristol-Myers wasn’t able to clear a similar bar in its Opdivo lung cancer trials.
Amazing how KEYNOTE-042 succeeded in the entire > 1% cohort that Bristol failed in years ago. Keytruda is king.
— Brad Loncar (@bradloncar) April 9, 2018
There’s a reason companies like Merck, BMS, and AstraZeneca are attempting to outshine each other in lung cancer immunotherapy: lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. It’s also the deadliest, killing nearly 156,000 Americans each year. Keytruda rang in more than $3.8 billion in 2017 sales for Merck, the same year the FDA approved it as a go-to, first-in-line option for advanced lung cancer patients that haven’t received other treatments when combined with chemotherapy. Down the line, it’s possible even that combination with chemo won’t be necessary.
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