New Zealand follows the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in being the second country worldwide to register keytruda (pembrolizumab) in combination with chemotherapy for untreated advanced non-small cell lung cancer.
Keytruda, which was funded for advanced melanoma last year, now has three registrations for advanced non-small cell lung cancer in New Zealand.
“This registration; allowing use of Keytruda in combination with platinum-pemetrexed chemotherapy, will provide more lung cancer patients with access to Keytruda," says Paul Smith, MSD New Zealand Director.
“Lung cancer causes the highest number of cancer-related deaths in New Zealand, accounting for more than 1,600 deaths per year. More people die of lung cancer than of breast cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma combined," says Philip Hope, CEO of Lung Foundation New Zealand.
“Lung cancer also has a significant impact on Maori compared to the non-Maori population with rates 2.5 to 4 times higher in Maori men and women respectively.
“We are seeing keytruda registrations for lung cancer coming through very quickly which is great for New Zealand patients. I am also encouraged to see another chemotherapy - pemetrexed is to be funded; although this took many years.”
"Clinical trial results presented at the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology conference; showed 57 per cent of keytruda plus chemotherapy patients responded to treatment versus 30 per cent of patients treated with chemotherapy alone," says Paul.
“Median progression free survival was yet to be reached for keytruda plus chemotherapy patients, versus 8.9 months for the patients receiving only chemotherapy
“Although this study has a relatively short follow-up –14.5 months; it is one of the first studies of chemotherapy in advanced NSCLC patients in which median progression free survival is exceeding one year. 4, 5 Larger, phase three studies are on-going to further confirm these promising early results.
“PHARMAC’s subcommittee PTAC noted last year that survival rates for patients with advanced disease are poor with current treatments. 6 And now we are seeing the clinical trial results for immunotherapy medicines surpassing anything we have seen before in this sub-set of untreated non-small cell lung cancer patients. This is a promising time for all lung cancer sufferers in New Zealand, and it is important that they gain access to the newest and most effective treatments.
“MSD is working with PHARMAC and we are doing all we can to have keytruda funded for all New Zealanders’ as quickly as possible.
“Patients wanting to access keytruda should seek further advice from their cancer specialist about the options that may benefit them.”