Merck’s Keytruda meets main goal in pivotal lung cancer trial

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(Reuters) – Merck Co (MRK.N) said on Monday a late-stage trial of its blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda met the main goal in helping previously untreated lung cancer patients live longer, sending its shares up 2.6 percent in premarket trade.

Merck’s cancer drug Keytruda. REUTERS/via Merck

Merck is already considered the frontrunner in the lucrative market for lung cancer treatments and Keytruda’s approval to treat patients who have not received any prior treatments makes it available to a large number of people.

Keytruda is already approved in the U.S. to treat previously untreated patients for non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors have high levels of the PD-L1 protein.

An independent data monitoring committee determined the trial, which tested Keytruda as a monotherapy to treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), extended the lives of patients significantly compared to chemotherapy.

Based on the recommendation, the trial will continue to evaluate a secondary goal on whether the treatment can delay the disease from progressing.

The drug, which is approved to treat several other forms of cancer including skin cancer and blood cancer, racked up $3.81 billion in revenue in 2017.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer and is expected to kill over 154,000 people this year, the American Cancer Society says. NSCLC accounts for about 85 percent of all lung cancer cases, Merck said.

Shares of Merck were up at $54.97 in premarket trading.

Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Bernard Orr

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