New Findings Show Anti-Tumor Activity of KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) in Patients with Advanced Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Austria, Europe, North America, United States

KEYTRUDA Monotherapy Achieved Overall Response Rate of 22.2 Percent in Previously-Treated Patients

Results from KEYNOTE-028 Presented at 2015 European Cancer Congress


MSD, known as Merck (NYSE:MRK) in the United States and Canada, today announced the first-time presentation of findings investigating the use of KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), the company’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as a monotherapy in patients with advanced unresectable nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) – a type of head and neck cancer – whose tumors express PD-L1 (≥1% of cells in tumor nests or PD-L1+ bands in stroma). Data were from a Phase 1b study (KEYNOTE-028) and showed an overall response rate (ORR) (confirmed and unconfirmed) of 22.2 percent (95% CI, 8.6-42.3) in evaluable patients (n=27) who were treated with KEYTRUDA. Results were presented in an oral session by Dr. Chiun Hsu, National Taiwan University Hospital, at the European Cancer Congress (ECC) in Vienna (Abstract #2801).

“Advanced nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a severe form of head and neck cancer often associated with a poor prognosis,” said Dr. Hsu. “These data presented at ECC represent the potential for new approaches to treat this type of cancer, for which there are currently limited treatment options, and further support the need for additional research into how KEYTRUDA may work for certain types of head and neck cancer.”

MSD has initiated a comprehensive clinical development program evaluating KEYTRUDA in head and neck cancer across multiple lines of therapy as monotherapy and in combination with chemotherapy as well as other agents. In KEYNOTE-028, KEYTRUDA is being evaluated in patients with advanced unresectable NPC that is not responding to current therapy or for which current therapy is not appropriate. This is the second study to show early activity of KEYTRUDA in patients with head and neck cancer and the first study of an anti-PD-1 therapy to demonstrate clinical activity in patients with recurrent or metastatic NPC. For more information about our oncology clinical trials, visit

“The findings emerging from this trial again demonstrate that KEYTRUDA is active across a broad range of cancers, including those that are difficult to treat with standard treatments,” said Dr. Roger Dansey, senior vice president and therapeutic area head, oncology late-stage development, Merck Research Laboratories. “Based on these and other results to date, we are continuing to advance a comprehensive head and neck clinical program for KEYTRUDA, and we remain focused on realizing its full potential to address the unmet treatment needs for patients with difficult-to-treat cancers such as nasopharyngeal carcinoma.”

Additional Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Results from KEYNOTE-028

KEYNOTE-028 is an ongoing multi-cohort, non-randomized Phase 1b basket trial (a trial design that allows for the study of multiple sub-populations of different tumor or histological types within one study) evaluating the safety, tolerability, and anti-tumor activity of KEYTRUDA monotherapy (10 mg/kg dosed every two weeks) in more than 450 patients across 20 different types of cancer. The study was designed to evaluate patients with advanced solid tumors that express PD-L1 and which have not responded to current therapy or for which current therapy is not appropriate.

These early findings from 27 heavily pre-treated patients with advanced NPC demonstrated an ORR of 22.2 percent (n=6/27) (per RECIST v1.1), including six partial responses (95% CI, 8.6-42.3). Additionally, 55.6 percent of patients had stable disease (n=15/27) (95% CI, 35.3-74.5), the disease control rate (DCR) was 77.8 percent (n=21/27) (95% CI, 57.7-91.4), and tumor shrinkage was achieved in 67 percent of patients. The 6-month progression-free survival (PFS) rate was 49.7 percent and the 12-month PFS rate was 28.9 percent. The median follow-up duration for evaluable patients was 12.9 months (range, 2.2−15.0) and the median response duration was 10.8 months (range, 4.8- 10.8).

Adverse events were generally consistent with previously reported safety data for KEYTRUDA. Grade 3-5 investigator-assessed, treatment-related adverse events were hepatitis (n=2), pneumonitis (n=2), anemia (n=1), facial pain (n=1), increased blood creatine phosphokinase (n=1), proteinuria (n=1), and sepsis (n=1). Immune-mediated adverse events were hypothyroidism (n=5), hepatitis (n=4), and pneumonitis (n=3). There was one treatment-related death due to bacterial sepsis.

About PD-L1 and PD-L1 Expression

PD-L1, also called programmed death-ligand 1, is a protein expressed on many types of cells, including some cancer cells. Under normal conditions, the interaction of PD-L1 with another protein, called programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1), serves as an important immune system checkpoint, keeping the immune system in balance and preventing the body from attacking its own cells when inflammation or an infection is present. When cancerous tumors express PD-L1, however, they are able to escape detection and destruction by cytotoxic T-cells – a type of cancer-killing immune cell – allowing the tumor to survive and grow. Tumor PD-L1 expression has been observed at varying levels across many tumor types, including breast, lung, bladder cancer, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. High levels of PD-L1 expression, called overexpression, are under investigation for potential use as a way to help identify patients with an enhanced likelihood to respond to certain immune-based treatment approaches.

About Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is a type of head and neck cancer that starts in the epithelial cells that line the surface of the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose and near the base of skull.1 There are three types of NPC, based on how the cancer cells look under the microscope: keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma, non-keratinizing differentiated carcinoma, and undifferentiated carcinoma.1 Leading risk factors for NPC include Chinese or Asian ancestry, being exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus, and drinking large amounts of alcohol.2 In most parts of the world (including the United States), there is less than one case of NPC for every 100,000 people each year.3 In 2015, about 3,200 cases of NPC are expected to occur in the United States.3

About KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab)

KEYTRUDA is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2. By binding to the PD-1 receptor and blocking the interaction with the receptor ligands, KEYTRUDA releases the PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response, including the anti-tumor immune response.

KEYTRUDA is indicated for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma and disease progression following ipilimumab and, if BRAF V600 mutation positive, a BRAF inhibitor. This indication is approved under accelerated approval based on tumor response rate and durability of response. An improvement in survival or disease-related symptoms has not yet been established. Continued approval for this indication may be contingent upon verification and description of clinical benefit in the confirmatory trials.

The KEYTRUDA clinical development program has rapidly expanded to encompass more than 30 tumor types in more than 130 clinical trials, of which more than 70 trials combine KEYTRUDA with other cancer treatments. Registration-enabling trials of KEYTRUDA monotherapy are currently enrolling patients in melanoma, NSCLC, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, gastric cancer, colorectal cancer, and Hodgkin Lymphoma, with further trials in planning for other cancers.

Selected Important Safety Information for KEYTRUDA

Pneumonitis occurred in 12 (2.9%) of 411 patients, including Grade 2 or 3 cases in 8 (1.9%) and 1 (0.2%) patients, respectively, receiving KEYTRUDA. 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 pneumonitis.

Colitis (including microscopic colitis) occurred in 4 (1%) of 411 patients, including Grade 2 or 3 cases in 1 (0.2%) and 2 (0.5%) patients, respectively, receiving KEYTRUDA. 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.

Hepatitis (including autoimmune hepatitis) occurred in 2 (0.5%) of 411 patients, including a Grade 4 case in 1 (0.2%) patient, receiving KEYTRUDA. 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.

Hypophysitis occurred in 2 (0.5%) of 411 patients, including a Grade 2 case in 1 and a Grade 4 case in 1 (0.2% each) patient, receiving KEYTRUDA. Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of hypophysitis (including hypopituitarism and adrenal insufficiency). Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater hypophysitis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2; withhold or discontinue for Grade 3; and permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 4 hypophysitis.

Hyperthyroidism occurred in 5 (1.2%) of 411 patients, including Grade 2 or 3 cases in 2 (0.5%) and 1 (0.2%) patients, respectively, receiving KEYTRUDA. Hypothyroidism occurred in 34 (8.3%) of 411 patients, including a Grade 3 case in 1 (0.2%) patient, receiving KEYTRUDA. Thyroid disorders can occur at any time during treatment. Monitor patients for changes in thyroid function (at the start of treatment, periodically during treatment, and as indicated based on clinical evaluation) and for clinical signs and symptoms of thyroid disorders. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 3 or greater hyperthyroidism. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 3; permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 4 hyperthyroidism. Isolated hypothyroidism may be managed with replacement therapy without treatment interruption and without corticosteroids.

Type 1 diabetes mellitus, including diabetic ketoacidosis, has occurred in patients receiving KEYTRUDA. Monitor patients for hyperglycemia and other signs and symptoms of diabetes. Administer insulin for type 1 diabetes, and withhold KEYTRUDA in cases of severe hyperglycemia until metabolic control is achieved.

Nephritis occurred in 3 (0.7%) patients, consisting of one case of Grade 2 autoimmune nephritis (0.2%) and two cases of interstitial nephritis with renal failure (0.5%), one Grade 3 and one Grade 4. Monitor patients for changes in renal function. Administer corticosteroids for Grade 2 or greater nephritis. Withhold KEYTRUDA for Grade 2; permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for Grade 3 or 4 nephritis.

Other clinically important immune-mediated adverse reactions can occur. The following clinically significant immune-mediated adverse reactions occurred in patients treated with KEYTRUDA: exfoliative dermatitis, uveitis, arthritis, myositis, pancreatitis, hemolytic anemia, partial seizures arising in a patient with inflammatory foci in brain parenchyma, severe dermatitis including bullous pemphigoid, myasthenic syndrome, optic neuritis, and rhabdomyolysis.

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 of the adverse reaction to Grade 1 or less, initiate corticosteroid taper and continue to taper over at least 1 month. Restart KEYTRUDA if the adverse reaction remains at Grade 1 or less. Permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA for any severe or Grade 3 immune-mediated adverse reaction that recurs and for any life-threatening immune-mediated adverse reaction.

Infusion-related reactions, including severe and life-threatening reactions, have occurred in patients receiving KEYTRUDA. Monitor patients for signs and symptoms of infusion-related reactions including rigors, chills, wheezing, pruritus, flushing, rash, hypotension, hypoxemia, and fever. For severe or life-threatening reactions, stop infusion and permanently discontinue KEYTRUDA.

Based on its mechanism of action, KEYTRUDA may cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. If used during pregnancy, or if the patient becomes pregnant during treatment, apprise the patient of the potential hazard to a fetus. Advise females of reproductive potential to use highly effective contraception during treatment and for 4 months after the last dose of KEYTRUDA.

KEYTRUDA was discontinued for adverse reactions in 9% of 411 patients. Adverse reactions, reported in at least two patients, that led to discontinuation of KEYTRUDA were: pneumonitis, renal failure, and pain. Serious adverse reactions occurred in 36% of patients. The most frequent serious adverse reactions, reported in 2% or more of patients, were renal failure, dyspnea, pneumonia, and cellulitis.

The most common adverse reactions (reported in at least 20% of patients) were fatigue (47%), cough (30%), nausea (30%), pruritus (30%), rash (29%), decreased appetite (26%), constipation (21%), arthralgia (20%), and diarrhea (20%).

The recommended dose of KEYTRUDA is 2 mg/kg administered as an intravenous infusion over 30 minutes every three weeks until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity. No formal pharmacokinetic drug interaction studies have been conducted with KEYTRUDA. It is not known whether KEYTRUDA is excreted in human milk. Because many drugs are excreted in human milk, instruct women to discontinue nursing during treatment with KEYTRUDA. Safety and effectiveness of KEYTRUDA have not been established in pediatric patients.

Our Focus on Cancer

Our goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At MSD Oncology, helping people fight cancer is our passion and supporting accessibility to our cancer medicines is our commitment. Our focus is on pursuing research in immuno-oncology and we are accelerating every step in the journey – from lab to clinic – to potentially bring new hope to people with cancer. For more information about our oncology clinical trials, visit

About MSD

Today’s MSD is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. MSD is a tradename of Merck & Co., Inc., with headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to healthcare through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships.

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