Merck Announces Initial Results for Pembrolizumab with Novel Immunotherapy Combinations from Three Investigational Studies Presented at the Society for Melanoma Research International Congress

In Addition, Longer Term Follow-Up Single-Agent Data for Pembrolizumab Shows Continued Superior Overall Response Rate and Progression Free Survival Compared to Ipilimumab

KIRKLAND, QC, Nov. 21, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside Canada and the United States, today announced findings from three studies investigating the use of pembrolizumab ,the company's anti-PD-1 therapy, in combination with three other immunotherapies – epacadostat, talimogene laherparepvec, and ipilimumab – in patients with advanced melanoma. The findings, which were featured in separate oral presentations today at the Society for Melanoma Research 2015 International Congress (SMR) in San Francisco, showed robust anti-tumor activity and a safety profile consistent with that previously reported with pembrolizumab in all three combinations studied.

"We have demonstrated the benefit of pembrolizumab as a single-agent in advanced/metastatic melanoma and we are now also looking to identify potential combinations for patients with this devastating disease," said Dr. Roger Dansey, senior vice president and therapeutic area head, oncology late-stage development, Merck Research Laboratories. "The combination data presented at SMR, including pembrolizumab combined with epacadostat, may further our goal of improving outcomes without substantial increased toxicity."

Additionally, updated data presented at SMR from a Phase 3 study of pembrolizumab as a single agent showed superior overall response rates (ORR) and progression free survival (PFS) compared to ipilimumab in ipilimumab-naïve patients, with twice as many patients achieving PFS on pembrolizumab compared to ipilimumab. As previously reported, the study met its endpoint of overall survival. Patient-reported outcomes from the same study were also presented.

The pembrolizumab clinical development program to date includes patients with more than 30 tumor types in more than 160 clinical trials, including more than 80 trials that combine pembrolizumab with other cancer treatments.

Early Findings from the KEYNOTE-037 Study (Pembrolizumab with Epacadostat)

KEYNOTE-037 is an ongoing Phase 1/2 study of pembrolizumab in combination with epacadostat (INCB024360) – an investigational selective IDO1 inhibitor – in patients with advanced cancers. The trial is a collaboration between Merck and Incyte Corporation. Data from the melanoma cohort of this study were presented on November 21 at 2:50 p.m. PST by Dr. Omid Hamid, director, Melanoma Center, The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute. These data were previously presented earlier this month at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer Annual Meeting as part of a presentation that included several tumor types. The SMR data includes additional safety data.

Early data from this trial showed that in 19 patients with advanced melanoma, the combination of pembrolizumab (two doses studied – 2 mg/kg or 200 mg every three weeks) with epacadostat (four doses studied – 25, 50, 100 or 300 mg twice daily) demonstrated an ORR of 53 percent (n=10/19), including three complete responses (CRs) and seven partial responses (PRs). The disease control rate (DCR) was 74 percent (n=14/19).

Treatment-related adverse events were consistent with previously reported safety data for pembrolizumab as a single agent. Fifteen percent (n=9/60) of patients assessed for safety across tumor types experienced Grade 3 investigator-assessed, treatment-related adverse events, including rash (8%), arthralgia (2%), AST increased (2%), mucosal inflammation (2%) and nervous system disorder (2%). Three patients discontinued treatment – one for Grade 3 arthralgia, one for Grade 3 AST increased, and one for Grade 2 nervous system disorder. No Grade 4 treatment-related adverse events or deaths were observed.

As previously announced, based on these findings, a Phase 3 trial of this combination is planned.

Early Findings from the MASTERKEY-265 Study (Pembrolizumab with T-VEC)

MASTERKEY-265 is an ongoing Phase 1b study evaluating the safety, efficacy, and tolerability of pembrolizumab in combination with talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) – a herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1)-based oncolytic immunotherapy – in patients with previously untreated, unresected advanced melanoma. The trial is a collaboration between Merck and Amgen. Data from this study were presented on November 21 at 3:20 p.m. PST by Dr. Georgina Long, associate professor, Melanoma Institute Australia, University of Sydney.

Data presented were of 16 evaluable patients and the first analysis of this study; results showed that the combination of pembrolizumab (200 mg every two weeks) with T-VEC (up to 4 mL of 106 PFU/mL, then 108 PFU/mL every two weeks) resulted in an unconfirmed ORR of 56.3 percent (n=9/16), (95% CI, 19.8, 70.1), including two CRs and seven PRs. The DCR was 68.8 percent (n=11/16) (95% CI, 11, 58.7). 

Treatment-related adverse events were consistent with previously reported safety data for pembrolizumab. All 21 patients enrolled had at least one adverse event, and most were Grades 1 and 2. The most common adverse events (occurring in at least 30% of patients) of any grade were fatigue (52%), pyrexia (48%), chills (43%), rash (38%), headache (33%), and nausea (33%). Grade 3 adverse events included headache (5%) and diarrhea (5%). Treatment-related Grade 3 adverse events occurring in 5 patients included anemia, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, hypophosphatemia, headache, macular rash and generalized rash.No dose-limiting toxicities were reported.     

Based on these findings, a Phase 3 part of this trial is planned.

Early Findings from the KEYNOTE-029 Study (Pembrolizumab with Ipilimumab)

KEYNOTE-029 is an ongoing Phase 1/2 study evaluating the safety, efficacy, and tolerability of pembrolizumab in combination with low-dose ipilimumab in patients with advanced melanoma to investigate whether lower doses of ipilimumab improve the tolerability of the combination regimen. Early findings from this study were presented on November 21 at 2 p.m. PST by Dr. Georgina Long, associate professor, Melanoma Institute Australia, University of Sydney.

Early findings in 72 evaluable patients with advanced melanoma showed that pembrolizumab (2 mg/kg every three weeks) in combination with low-dose ipilimumab (1 mg/kg every three weeks for four doses) demonstrated an ORR of 56 percent (95% CI, 43-67), including three CRs and 37 PRs. The DCR was 79 percent (95% CI, 68-88).

Treatment-related adverse events were observed in 93 percent (n=67/72) of patients. Grade 3-4 treatment-related adverse events were observed in 36 percent of patients (n=26/72), including lipase increased (8%), amylase increased (6%), ALT increased (6%), AST increased (4%), rash (3%), and diarrhea (1%). Grade 3-4 immune-mediated adverse events included thyroiditis, hypophysitis, type 1 diabetes mellitus, pneumonitis, colitis, hepatitis, pancreatitis, severe skin reactions and renal events. There were no treatment-related deaths.

Additional Findings from the KEYNOTE-006 Study

KEYNOTE-006 is a global, open-label, randomized, pivotal, Phase 3 study of patients with unresectable stage 3 or 4 advanced melanoma who were naïve to ipilimumab and had no more than one prior systemic therapy. Patients received pembrolizumab 10 mg/kg every two weeks (n=279), pembrolizumab 10 mg/kg every three weeks (n=277), or four cycles of ipilimumab 3 mg/kg every three weeks (n=278). Today's findings provide data on additional endpoints of ORR and PFS based on six months of additional follow-up (median follow-up of 13.8 months), as well as the first-time presentation of patient-reported outcomes. Results were featured in two poster sessions by Dr. Jacob Schachter, Ella Lemelbaum Institute for Melanoma, Sheba Medical Center, and Dr. Teresa Petrella, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto.

Findings showed PFS rates for pembrolizumab at 12 months were twice as high as ipilimumab – 37.7 percent in the pembrolizumab every two week cohort and 36.3 percent in the every three week group, compared to 17.2 percent with ipilimumab (hazard ratio: 0.60 [95% CI: 0.49-0.74; p<0.00001] and hazard ratio: 0.59 [95% CI: 0.48-0.73], respectively). Additionally, the ORR was 36.2 and 36.1 percent in patients receiving pembrolizumab every two weeks or every three weeks, respectively [(95% CI, 30.6-42.1), and (95% CI, 30.4-42.1), respectively], compared to 12.9 percent for ipilimumab (95% CI, 9.2-17.5).

There continued to be no treatment-related deaths in the pembrolizumab arm and there were no treatment-related deaths in the ipilimumab arm beyond one that was previously reported. Grade 3-5 treatment-related adverse events were lower for pembrolizumab than for ipilimumab – 15.1 and 12.6 percent of patients receiving pembrolizumab every two weeks and every three weeks had Grade 3-4 adverse events, respectively, compared to 19.9 percent of those receiving ipilimumab. Immune-mediated treatment-related adverse events were consistent with previously reported safety data for pembrolizumab and included hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, colitis, hepatitis, hypophysitis, pneumonitis, type 1 diabetes mellitus, uveitis, myositis and nephritis.

Also reported at SMR from this study was a prespecified analysis of new patient-reported health-related quality of life (HRQoL) outcomes, based on measures such as physical, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning (based on European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Core Quality of Life Questionnaire). The study showed that HRQoL was maintained to a greater degree with pembrolizumab than with ipilimumab – the change from baseline at week 12 (difference in least squares) for pembrolizumab was -2.3 (95% CI,-5.21 to 0.62) for the two-week group and -2.6 (95%CI, -5.44 to 0.23) for the three-week group, respectively, compared to -9.9 (95%CI, -13.01 to -6.72) for the ipilimumab arm.

In addition, pembrolizumab was associated with a better symptom profile. Patients in the pembrolizumab arms had smaller increases from baseline in fatigue, pain, dyspnea, appetite loss, and diarrhea, indicating that although these symptoms worsened with pembrolizumab, they did so to a lesser degree than with ipilimumab. Pembrolizumab also resulted in improvements over baseline in nausea and vomiting and insomnia, whereas these symptoms worsened with ipilimumab.

About Melanoma

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer1, is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells. The incidence of melanoma has been increasing over the past four decades – approximately 232,130 new cases were diagnosed worldwide in 2012.

In Canada, it is estimated that, in 2015, 6,800 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma, while 1,150 Canadians will die from melanoma2.

The five-year survival rates for advanced or metastatic melanoma (Stage IV) are estimated to be 15 to 20 percent3.

About KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) in Canada

Pembrolizumab, known under the brand name 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, pembrolizumab releases the PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response, including the anti-tumor immune response. In Canada, KEYTRUDA® has been approved for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma and disease progression following ipilimumab therapy and, if BRAF V600 mutation positive, following a BRAF or MEK inhibitor. An improvement in survival or disease-related symptoms has not yet been established. KEYTRUDA has been issued marketing authorization with conditions, pending the results of studies to verify its clinical benefit.

Merck is advancing a broad and fast-growing clinical development program that has rapidly expanded to encompass more than 30 tumor types in more than 160 clinical trials, of which more than 80 trials combine pembrolizumab with other cancer treatments.

For further information on pembrolizumab, please consult the product monograph available at

Our Focus on Cancer

Our goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At Merck 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 Merck Canada

Today's Merck is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. 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. For more information about our operations in Canada, visit and YouTube.

Forward-Looking Statement of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA

This news release of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA (the "company") includes "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are based upon the current beliefs and expectations of the company's management and are subject to significant risks and uncertainties. There can be no guarantees with respect to pipeline products that the products will receive the necessary regulatory approvals or that they will prove to be commercially successful. If underlying assumptions prove inaccurate or risks or uncertainties materialize, actual results may differ materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements.

Risks and uncertainties include but are not limited to, general industry conditions and competition; general economic factors, including interest rate and currency exchange rate fluctuations; the impact of pharmaceutical industry regulation and health care legislation in the United States and internationally; global trends toward health care cost containment; technological advances, new products and patents attained by competitors; challenges inherent in new product development, including obtaining regulatory approval; the company's ability to accurately predict future market conditions; manufacturing difficulties or delays; financial instability of international economies and sovereign risk; dependence on the effectiveness of the company's patents and other protections for innovative products; and the exposure to litigation, including patent litigation, and/or regulatory actions.

The company undertakes no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. Additional factors that could cause results to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements can be found in the company's 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K and the company's other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) available at the SEC's Internet site (

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  1. Medline Plus. (May 2012). Melanoma. Retrieved on November 20, 2015 from
  2. Canadian Cancer Society. Melanoma. Retrieved on November 20, 2015 from
  3. American Cancer Society. Melanoma Skin Cancer. Retrieved on November 20, 2015 from  


SOURCE Merck Canada Inc.

For further information: Media Contacts: Annick Robinson, (438) 837-2550; Investor Contacts: Teri Loxam, (908) 740-1986


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