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NICE approves Merck’s Keytruda for adult patients with rare triple negative breast cancer

The injection is given in combination with chemotherapy and administered once every three weeks

Merck & Co – known as MSD outside the US and Canada – has received a recommendation from The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for its new injectable treatment, Keytruda, with chemotherapy in adults with a rare form of triple-negative breast cancer.

It is estimated that around 100 people per year with triple-negative breast cancer may benefit from the treatment.

Given as an injection every three weeks, the treatment specifically targets triple-negative breast cancer. Keytruda, also called pembrolizumab, has been recommended for adults who have not had chemotherapy for metastatic disease, and where surgery to remove the tumour is impossible.

Evidence from clinical trials shows that, compared with other available treatments, Keytruda with chemotherapy increases patient life expectancy, as well as the length of time for patients before their cancer progresses.

Helen Knight, interim director of medicines evaluation at NICE, has commented: “Today’s decision demonstrates how NICE is at the forefront of bringing better care to more people. I am pleased the company has been able to work constructively with us to find solutions to the issues highlighted in our previous draft guidance.”

The recommendation also means that patients who cannot have the already available combination of atezolizumab with chemotherapy are now potentially eligible for Keytruda.

The treatment acts by blocking the activity of a protein known as PD-L1, which is produced in larger amounts on cancerous cells than on normal cells. By blocking this protein, the injection helps the patient’s own immune cells to attack cancer.

NICE’s independent appraisal committee has agreed that the Keytruda combination meets the higher cost-effectiveness threshold for life-extending treatments among those with a short life expectancy.

“People who were not able to access atezolizumab, another NICE-recommended immunotherapy, now have an important new option that can help them live longer and spend more precious time with their loved ones,” Knight continued.

“So, although our recommendation is for a narrower population than pembrolizumab combination is licenced for, it means the maximum number of people with advanced triple-negative breast cancer now have access to effective treatments.”