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European Commission Approves Two New Regimens of Merck’s KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) as First-Line Treatment for Metastatic or Unresectable Recurrent Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC)

KEYTRUDA is the First Anti-PD-1 Therapy Approved in Europe for the First-Line Treatment of Head and Neck Cancer as Monotherapy or in Combination with Chemotherapy, in Patients Whose Tumors Express PD-L1 (CPS ≥1)

Approval Based on Significant Overall Survival Findings from Phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 Trial

KENILWORTH, N.J.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–$MRK #MRK–Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, today announced that the European Commission has approved KEYTRUDA, Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as monotherapy or in combination with platinum and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) chemotherapy, for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic or unresectable recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) whose tumors express PD-L1 (combined positive score [CPS] ≥1). This approval is based on findings from the pivotal Phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 trial, in which KEYTRUDA, compared with standard treatment (cetuximab with carboplatin or cisplatin plus 5-FU), demonstrated a significant improvement in overall survival (OS) as monotherapy (HR = 0.74 [95% CI, (0.61-0.90); p=0.00133] and in combination with chemotherapy (HR=0.65 [95% CI, 0.53-0.80]; p=0.00002), in patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1 (CPS ≥1).

This disease is especially debilitating since it can be highly visible and affect a patient’s appearance and their daily functions, such as eating and speaking,” said Professor Kevin Harrington, investigator for KEYNOTE-048, professor of biological cancer therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and consultant clinical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. “Considering the great need for new treatment options, we are encouraged by today’s KEYTRUDA approval in Europe, which will allow certain patients to be treated with immunotherapy earlier in the course of their treatment.”

This approval allows marketing of the KEYTRUDA monotherapy and combination regimen in all 28 EU member states plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway.

KEYTRUDA is now the first anti-PD-1 treatment option in the first-line setting for metastatic or unresectable recurrent head and neck cancer, a disease that has been treated the same way in the EU for more than a decade,” said Dr. Jonathan Cheng, vice president, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories. “The European Commission approval underscores our commitment to transforming the way cancer is treated around the world.”

Data Supporting the European Approval

This approval is based on data from the Phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 trial, a multi-center, randomized, open-label, active-controlled trial conducted in 882 patients with histologically confirmed metastatic or recurrent HNSCC of the oral cavity, pharynx or larynx, who had not previously received systemic therapy for recurrent or metastatic disease and who were considered incurable by local therapies. Randomization was stratified by tumor PD-L1 expression (Tumor Proportion Score [TPS] ≥50% or <50%), HPV status (positive or negative), and ECOG Performance Status (PS) (0 vs. 1). The dual primary endpoints were OS and progression-free survival (PFS). Patients were randomized 1:1:1 to one of the following treatment arms:

  • KEYTRUDA 200 mg intravenously every three weeks;
  • KEYTRUDA 200 mg intravenously every three weeks, carboplatin AUC 5 mg/mL/min intravenously every three weeks or cisplatin 100 mg/m2 intravenously every three weeks and 5-FU 1000 mg/m2/day as a continuous intravenous infusion over 96 hours every three weeks (maximum of six cycles of platinum and 5-FU);
  • Cetuximab 400 mg/m2 intravenously as the initial dose then 250 mg/m2 intravenously once weekly, carboplatin AUC 5 mg/mL/min intravenously every three weeks or cisplatin 100 mg/m2 intravenously every three weeks and 5-FU 1000 mg/m2/day as a continuous intravenous infusion over 96 hours every three weeks (maximum of six cycles of platinum and 5-FU).

Treatment with KEYTRUDA continued until RECIST v1.1-defined progression of disease as determined by the investigator, unacceptable toxicity or a maximum of 24 months.

 

Efficacy Results for KEYTRUDA as Monotherapy in KEYNOTE-048 with PD-L1 Expression

(CPS ≥1)

Endpoint

KEYTRUDA

n=257

Standard

Treatment*

n=255

OS

Number (%) of patients with event

197 (77%)

229 (90%)

Median in months (95% CI)

12.3 (10.8, 14.3)

10.3 (9.0, 11.5)

Hazard ratio (95% CI)

0.74 (0.61, 0.90)

p-Value

0.00133

PFS

Number (%) of patients with event

228 (89%)

237 (93%)

Median in months (95% CI)

3.2 (2.2, 3.4)

5.0 (4.8, 6.0)

Hazard ratio (95% CI)

1.13 (0.94, 1.36)

p-Value

0.89580

ORR

Objective response rate§ (95% CI)

19.1% (14.5, 24.4)

35% (29.1, 41.1)

Complete response

5%

3%

Partial response

14%

32%

p-Value

1.0000

Duration of Response

Median in months (range)

23.4 (1.5+, 43.0+)

4.5 (1.2+, 38.7+)

% with duration ≥6 months

81%

36%

*

Cetuximab, platinum, and 5-FU

Based on the stratified Cox proportional hazard model

Based on stratified log-rank test

§

Response: Best objective response as confirmed complete response or partial response

Based on Miettinen and Nurminen method stratified by ECOG (0 vs. 1), HPV status (positive vs. negative) and PD-L1 status (strongly positive vs. not strongly positive)

Efficacy Results for KEYTRUDA plus Chemotherapy in KEYNOTE-048 with PD-L1 Expression

(CPS ≥1)

Endpoint

 

KEYTRUDA +

Platinum Chemotherapy +

5-FU

n=242

 

Standard

Treatment*

n=235

OS

Number (%) of patients with event

 

177 (73%)

 

213 (91%)

Median in months (95% CI)

 

13.6 (10.7, 15.5)

 

10.4 (9.1, 11.7)

Hazard ratio (95% CI)

 

0.65 (0.53, 0.80)

p-Value

 

0.00002

PFS

Number (%) of patients with event

 

212 (88%)

 

221 (94%)

Median in months (95% CI)

 

5.1 (4.7, 6.2)

 

5.0 (4.8, 6.0)

Hazard ratio (95% CI)

 

0.84 (0.69, 1.02)

p-Value

 

0.03697

ORR

Objective response rate§ (95% CI)

 

36% (30.3, 42.8)

 

36% (29.6, 42.2)

Complete response

 

7%

 

3%

Partial response

 

30%

 

33%

p-Value

 

0.4586

Duration of Response

Median in months (range)

 

6.7 (1.6+, 39.0+)

 

4.3 (1.2+, 31.5+)

% with duration ≥6 months

 

54%

 

34%

*

Cetuximab, platinum, and 5-FU

Based on the stratified Cox proportional hazard model

Based on stratified log-rank test

§

Response: Best objective response as confirmed complete response or partial response

Based on Miettinen and Nurminen method stratified by ECOG (0 vs. 1), HPV status (positive vs. negative) and PD-L1 status (strongly positive vs. not strongly positive

The safety of KEYTRUDA as monotherapy has been evaluated in 5,884 patients with advanced melanoma, resected Stage III melanoma (adjuvant therapy), non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), classical Hodgkin lymphoma, urothelial carcinoma, or HNSCC across four doses (2 mg/kg every 3 weeks, 200 mg every 3 weeks, or 10 mg/kg every 2 or 3 weeks) in clinical studies. In this patient population, the median observation time was 7.3 months (range: 1 day to 31 months) and the most frequent adverse reactions with KEYTRUDA were fatigue (32%), nausea (20%), and diarrhea (20%). The majority of adverse reactions reported for monotherapy were of Grades 1 or 2 severity. The most serious adverse reactions were immune-related adverse reactions and severe infusion-related reactions.

The safety of KEYTRUDA in combination with chemotherapy has been evaluated in 1,067 patients with NSCLC or HNSCC receiving 200 mg, 2 mg/kg or 10 mg/kg KEYTRUDA every 3 weeks, in clinical studies. In this patient population, the most frequent adverse reactions were anemia (50%), nausea (50%), fatigue (37%), constipation (35%), diarrhea (30%), neutropenia (30%), decreased appetite (28%) and vomiting (25%). Incidences of Grades 3-5 adverse reactions in patients with NSCLC were 67% for KEYTRUDA combination therapy and 66% for chemotherapy alone and in patients with HNSCC were 85% for KEYTRUDA combination therapy and 84% for chemotherapy plus cetuximab.

About Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer describes a number of different tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses and mouth. Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that begin in the flat, squamous cells that make up the thin surface layer of the structures in the head and neck. Two substances that greatly increase the risk of developing head and neck cancer are tobacco and alcohol. It is estimated that there were more than 705,000 new cases of head and neck cancer diagnosed and over 358,000 deaths from the disease worldwide in 2018. In Europe, it is estimated that there were more than 146,000 newly diagnosed cases of head and neck cancer and around 66,000 deaths from the disease in 2018.

About KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) Injection

KEYTRUDA is an anti-PD-1 therapy that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells. KEYTRUDA is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2, thereby activating T lymphocytes which may affect both tumor cells and healthy cells.

Merck has the industry’s largest immuno-oncology clinical research program. There are currently more than 1,000 trials studying KEYTRUDA across a wide variety of cancers and treatment settings. The KEYTRUDA clinical program seeks to understand the role of KEYTRUDA across cancers and the factors that may predict a patient’s likelihood of benefitting from treatment with KEYTRUDA, including exploring several different biomarkers.

Selected Indications for KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) in the U.S.

Melanoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma.

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the adjuvant treatment of patients with melanoma with involvement of lymph node(s) following complete resection.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

KEYTRUDA, in combination with pemetrexed and platinum chemotherapy, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), with no EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations.

KEYTRUDA, in combination with carboplatin and either paclitaxel or paclitaxel protein-bound, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic squamous NSCLC.

KEYTRUDA, as a single agent, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with NSCLC expressing PD-L1 [tumor proportion score (TPS) ≥1%] as determined by an FDA-approved test, with no EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations, and is stage III where patients are not candidates for surgical resection or definitive chemoradiation, or metastatic.

KEYTRUDA, as a single agent, is indicated for the treatment of patients with metastatic NSCLC whose tumors express PD-L1 (TPS ≥1%) as determined by an FDA-approved test, with disease progression on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy. Patients with EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations should have disease progression on FDA-approved therapy for these aberrations prior to receiving KEYTRUDA.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with metastatic small cell lung cancer (SCLC) with disease progression on or after platinum-based chemotherapy and at least one other prior line of therapy. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in confirmatory trials.

Head and Neck Squamous Cell Cancer

KEYTRUDA, in combination with platinum and fluorouracil (FU), is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

KEYTRUDA, as a single agent, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic or with unresectable, recurrent HNSCC whose tumors express PD-L1 [combined positive score (CPS) ≥1] as determined by an FDA-approved test.

KEYTRUDA, as a single agent, is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent or metastatic HNSCC with disease progression on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL), or who have relapsed after 3 or more prior lines of therapy. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Primary Mediastinal Large B-Cell Lymphoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with refractory primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL), or who have relapsed after 2 or more prior lines of therapy. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in confirmatory trials. KEYTRUDA is not recommended for the treatment of patients with PMBCL who require urgent cytoreductive therapy.

Urothelial Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (mUC) who are not eligible for cisplatin-containing chemotherapy and whose tumors express PD-L1 [CPS ≥10] as determined by an FDA-approved test, or in patients who are not eligible for any platinum-containing chemotherapy regardless of PD-L1 status. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and duration of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (mUC) who have disease progression during or following platinum-containing chemotherapy or within 12 months of neoadjuvant or adjuvant treatment with platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Microsatellite Instability-High (MSI-H) Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with unresectable or metastatic microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR).

  • solid tumors that have progressed following prior treatment and who have no satisfactory alternative treatment options, or
  • colorectal cancer that has progressed following treatment with fluoropyrimidine, oxaliplatin, and irinotecan.

This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials. The safety and effectiveness of KEYTRUDA in pediatric patients with MSI-H central nervous system cancers have not been established.

Gastric Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) adenocarcinoma whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥1) as determined by an FDA-approved test, with disease progression on or after two or more prior lines of therapy including fluoropyrimidine- and platinum-containing chemotherapy and if appropriate, HER2/neu-targeted therapy. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Esophageal Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥10) as determined by an FDA-approved test, with disease progression after one or more prior lines of systemic therapy.

Cervical Cancer

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer with disease progression on or after chemotherapy whose tumors express PD-L1 (CPS ≥1) as determined by an FDA-approved test. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) who have been previously treated with sorafenib. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

Renal Cell Carcinoma

KEYTRUDA, in combination with axitinib, is indicated for the first-line treatment of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

Selected Important Safety Information for KEYTRUDA

Immune-Mediated Pneumonitis

KEYTRUDA can cause immune-mediated pneumonitis, including fatal cases. Pneumonitis occurred in 3.4% (94/2799) of patients with various cancers receiving KEYTRUDA, including Grade 1 (0.8%), 2 (1.3%), 3 (0.9%), 4 (0.3%), and 5 (0.1%). Pneumonitis occurred in 8.2% (65/790) of NSCLC patients receiving KEYTRUDA as a single agent, including Grades 3-4 in 3.2% of patients, and occurred more frequently in patients with a history of prior thoracic radiation (17%) compared to those without (7.7%). Pneumonitis occurred in 6% (18/300) of HNSCC patients receiving KEYTRUDA as a single agent, including Grades 3-5 in 1.6% of patients, and occurred in 5.4% (15/276) of patients receiving KEYTRUDA in combination with platinum and FU as first-line therapy for advanced disease, including Grade 3-5 in 1.5% of patients.

Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of pneumonitis. Evaluate suspected pneumonitis with radiographic imaging. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater pneumonitis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2; permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 3 or 4 or recurrent Grade 2 pneumonitis.

Immune-Mediated Colitis

KEYTRUDA can cause immune-mediated colitis. Colitis occurred in 1.7% (48/2799) of patients receiving KEYTRUDA, including Grade 2 (0.4%), 3 (1.1%), and 4 (<0.1%). Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of colitis. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater colitis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2 or 3; permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 4 colitis.

Immune-Mediated Hepatitis (KEYTRUDA) and Hepatotoxicity (KEYTRUDA in Combination With Axitinib)

Immune-Mediated Hepatitis

KEYTRUDA can cause immune-mediated hepatitis. Hepatitis occurred in 0.7% (19/2799) of patients receiving KEYTRUDA, including Grade 2 (0.1%), 3 (0.4%), and 4 (<0.1%). Monitor patients for changes in liver function. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater hepatitis and, based on severity of liver enzyme elevations, withhold or discontinue KEYTRUDA.

Hepatotoxicity in Combination With Axitinib

KEYTRUDA in combination with axitinib can cause hepatic toxicity with higher than expected frequencies of Grades 3 and 4 ALT and AST elevations compared to KEYTRUDA alone. With the combination of KEYTRUDA and axitinib, Grades 3 and 4 increased ALT (20%) and increased AST (13%) were seen. Monitor liver enzymes before initiation of and periodically throughout treatment. Consider more frequent monitoring of liver enzymes as compared to when the drugs are administered as single agents. For elevated liver enzymes, interrupt KEYTRUDA and axitinib, and consider administering corticosteroids as needed.

Immune-Mediated Endocrinopathies

KEYTRUDA can cause hypophysitis, thyroid disorders, and type 1 diabetes mellitus. Hypophysitis occurred in 0.6% (17/2799) of patients, including Grade 2 (0.2%), 3 (0.3%), and 4 (<0.1%). Hypothyroidism occurred in 8.5% (237/2799) of patients, including Grade 2 (6.2%) and 3 (0.1%). The incidence of new or worsening hypothyroidism was higher in 1185 patients with HNSCC (16%), receiving KEYTRUDA, as a single agent or in combination with platinum and FU, including Grade 3 (0.3%) hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism occurred in 3.4% (96/2799) of patients, including Grade 2 (0.8%) and 3 (0.1%), and thyroiditis occurred in 0.6% (16/2799) of patients, including Grade 2 (0.3%). Type 1 diabetes mellitus, including diabetic ketoacidosis, occurred in 0.2% (6/2799) of patients.

Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of hypophysitis (including hypopituitarism and adrenal insufficiency), thyroid function (prior to and periodically during treatment), and hyperglycemia. For hypophysitis, administer corticosteroids and hormone replacement as clinically indicated. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2 and withhold or discontinue for Grade 3 or 4 hypophysitis. Administer hormone replacement for hypothyroidism and manage hyperthyroidism with thionamides and beta-blockers as appropriate. Withhold or discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 3 or 4 hyperthyroidism. Administer insulin for type 1 diabetes and withhold KEYTRUDA and administer antihyperglycemics in patients with severe hyperglycemia.

Immune-Mediated Nephritis and Renal Dysfunction

KEYTRUDA can cause immune-mediated nephritis. Nephritis occurred in 0.3% (9/2799) of patients receiving KEYTRUDA, including Grade 2 (0.1%), 3 (0.1%), and 4 (<0.1%) nephritis. Nephritis occurred in 1.7% (7/405) of patients receiving KEYTRUDA in combination with pemetrexed and platinum chemotherapy. Monitor patients for changes in renal function. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater nephritis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2; permanently discontinue for Grade 3 or 4 nephritis.

Immune-Mediated Skin Reactions

Immune-mediated rashes, including Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) (some cases with fatal outcome), exfoliative dermatitis, and bullous pemphigoid, can occur. Monitor patients for suspected severe skin reactions and based on the severity of the adverse reaction, withhold or permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA and administer corticosteroids. For signs or symptoms of SJS or TEN, withhold KEYTRUDA and refer the patient for specialized care for assessment and treatment. If SJS or TEN is confirmed, permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA.

Other Immune-Mediated Adverse Reactions

Immune-mediated adverse reactions, which may be severe or fatal, can occur in any organ system or tissue in patients receiving KEYTRUDA and may also occur after discontinuation of treatment. For suspected immune-mediated adverse reactions, ensure adequate evaluation to confirm etiology or exclude other causes. Based on the severity of the adverse reaction, withhold KEYTRUDA and administer corticosteroids. Upon improvement to Grade 1 or less, initiate corticosteroid taper and continue to taper over at least 1 month. Based on limited data from clinical studies in patients whose immune-related adverse reactions could not be controlled with corticosteroid use, administration of other systemic immunosuppressants can be considered.

Contacts

Media: 

Pamela Eisele 

(267) 305-3558

Ayn Wisler

(917) 691-6218

Investor: 

Peter Dannenbaum 

(908) 740-1037

Michael DeCarbo 

(908) 740-1807

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