Over the years, Merck & Co’s (NYSE:MRK) blockbuster cancer treatment, Keytruda, has been the standard first-line treatment alternative for most burdensome lung cancers, but this dominance is about to change. Recently at a cancer research conference, several companies challenged the treatment with their won cancer drugs.
Merck’s blockbuster cancer treatment could face competition from new entrants
The most notable is Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:REGN), which presented a competing treatment alternative that it plans to launch in 2021. Roche Holding’s Genentech unit also presented an alternative treatment for a breast form of cancers where Merck’s Keytruda is also widely used.
However, Merck executives are still upbeat about Keytriuda, an immune-oncology treatment that unmasks tumors for response by the body’s immune system. Currently, the blockbuster treatment has approval for 30 cancer types in the US and accounts for around 25% of its revenues.
Roger Perlmutter, the company’s research chief, stated in a call that Merck currently has over 1,300 clinical trials that are on-going with the drug. Most of the studies were recently featured during the European Society form Medical Oncology virtual conference, which includes enhanced survival benefits against ovarian and esophagus cancer. Among the featured studies was the long-term survival follow-up in patients with lung cancer treated with Keytruda. Interestingly the blockbuster almost doubled the survival rate of 5 years to 32% relative to 16% in patients that received only chemotherapy treatment. Usually, cancers can develop resistance to chemotherapy, which is the case with Keytruda, but it staled lung cancers for around 29 months, which is 5 times longer compared to chemotherapy.
Regeneron’s Libtayo to compete with Keytruda for lung cancer treatment
A competitor for Keytruda will be Regeneron’s Libtayo, which the company presented during the 2020 ESMO. The immune-oncology drug showed a reduction in death among lung cancer patients by almost 43% compared to chemotherapy over 11 month treatment period. According to Canaccord Genuity’s John Newman, the study could gain significant share for Regeneron and Sanofi, its partner, once Libtayo gets approval for lung cancer treatment.