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Merck's cancer drug Keytruda succeeds in a late-stage trial 

Merck & Co. Keytruda cancer treatment drug.
Source: Merck & Co.

U.S. drugmaker Merck's blockbuster drug Keytruda met the main goal of a late-stage trial testing the treatment in patients with cancers of the digestive tract, the U.S. drugmaker said on Wednesday.

Keytruda, among a class of medicines called PD-1 inhibitors, is Merck's top selling drug and has already been approved to treat several forms of cancer including skin and lung cancer.

PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors work by blocking a mechanism of tumors that allows them to evade detection by cancer-fighting cells.

Keytruda, when compared to chemotherapy, enabled certain patients with esophageal cancer to live longer, helping the drug meet the main goal of the late-stage study, Merck said.

"This marks the sixth tumor type where Keytruda has demonstrated a survival benefit, and represents the first time an anti-PD-1 therapy has achieved overall survival for this patient population," said Roy Baynes, chief medical officer of Merck Research Laboratories.

Esophageal cancer is the seventh most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, the company said.

Merck said trial results would be presented at an upcoming medical meeting.

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Key Points
  • Pfizer lost the final round in a long-running patent battle in Britain after the country's highest court ruled against it in a case involving its $5 billion-a-year pain drug Lyrica.
  • Lyrica was originally developed for epilepsy but further research showed it could also help patients suffering from neuropathic pain, which soon became its main market.
  • In a bid to protect this lucrative section of the market, Pfizer secured a secondary patent, valid beyond the life of the original one.
  • The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the secondary patent claims relevant to neuropathic pain were invalid.