Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved KEYTRUDA, Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as monotherapy in patients whose tumors express PD-L1 (Combined Positive Score [CPS] ≥1) or in combination with platinum and fluorouracil (FU), a commonly used chemotherapy regimen, for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).
The approval is based on results from the pivotal Phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 trial, where KEYTRUDA demonstrated a significant improvement in overall survival (OS) compared with the EXTREME regimen (cetuximab with carboplatin or cisplatin plus FU), a standard treatment, as monotherapy in patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1 (CPS ≥1) (HR=0.78 [95% CI, 0.64-0.96]; p=0.0171) and in combination with chemotherapy in the total study population (HR=0.77 [95% CI, 0.63-0.93]; p=0.0067). With these new indications, KEYTRUDA is the first anti-PD-1 therapy approved in the first-line setting as monotherapy in patients whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥1) or in combination with chemotherapy regardless of PD-L1 expression for patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent HNSCC and the first anti-PD-1 therapy to demonstrate a statistically significant improvement in OS in these patients.
“This approval is a very exciting milestone in the treatment of head and neck cancer and has the potential to transform the way we treat patients with this debilitating disease by offering important new therapeutic options,”
said Dr. Barbara Burtness, professor of medicine, Yale School of Medicine and co-director, Development Therapeutics Research Program, Yale Cancer Center.
“Metastatic or recurrent head and neck cancer has been an area of significant unmet need, so it is encouraging to have immunotherapy regimens available for patients in the first-line setting.”
Immune-mediated adverse reactions, which may be severe or fatal, can occur with KEYTRUDA, including pneumonitis, colitis, hepatitis, endocrinopathies, nephritis and renal dysfunction, severe skin reactions, solid organ transplant rejection, and complications of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Based on the severity of the adverse reaction, KEYTRUDA should be withheld or discontinued and corticosteroids administered if appropriate. KEYTRUDA can also cause severe or life-threatening infusion-related reactions. Based on its mechanism of action, KEYTRUDA can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. For more information, see “Selected Important Safety Information” below.
“Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma has historically presented many challenges to physicians and patients, including limited treatment options and physical and functional issues caused by the disease and its treatment,”
said Dr. Jonathan Cheng, vice president, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories.
“This approval is an important advance in the management of this devastating cancer. The results of KEYNOTE-048, which support this approval, demonstrated that KEYTRUDA monotherapy for patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1 CPS greater than or equal to one and KEYTRUDA in combination with chemotherapy regardless of PD-L1 expression significantly prolonged survival for patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in the first-line setting.”
KEYTRUDA was initially approved for the treatment of patients with recurrent or metastatic HNSCC with disease progression on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy in 2016 under the FDA’s accelerated approval process based on objective response rate data from the Phase 1b KEYNOTE-012 trial. In accordance with the accelerated approval process, continued approval was contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit, which has now been demonstrated in KEYNOTE-048 and has resulted in the FDA converting the accelerated approval to a full (regular) approval.