The Food and Drug Administration has approved pembrolizumab, brand name Keytruda, for patients whose cancers arise from a genetic abnormality. It is the first time a drug has been approved for use against tumors that share a certain genetic profile, whatever their location in the body. Tens of thousands of cancer patients each year could benefit.
At first it might seem like great news for Merck, whose drug costs $156,000 per year, but the reality maybe something different. Keytruda and Opdivo are very similar drugs and according to the Oncology thought leaders that I talked with most see the two drugs as “interchangeable”. BMS has already submitted Opdivo for the same indication plus let’s remember that BMS gets a small percentage of every Keytruda sale.
Make no mistake about it the PR buzz is meant for Wall Street, not patients. While there has been an intense battle going on between Keytruda and Opdivo some have questioned whether the ads for the drugs are promising too much. However, should we deny cancer patients the optimism that their live can indeed be extended the 2-3 months stated on the label?
We are entering new territory with the development and marketing of new cancer drugs. Patients want to have more of a say in their treatments and I’m sure insurers are going to weigh heavily on the which drugs can be used to treat certain cancers. Right now Merck’s PR is reaping the reward of an additional FDA approval, but as we all know the playing field is likely to change.