Merck (MRK - Free Report) announced encouraging data from a phase III study, EORTC1325/KEYNOTE-054, evaluating its anti-PD-1 therapy, Keytruda, in high-risk stage III melanoma patients in the adjuvant setting. Data from the study demonstrated that as an adjuvant treatment, Keytruda significantly increased recurrence free survival (“RFS”) after surgery compared to placebo in such patients. The drug reduced the risk of disease recurrence or death by 43% over placebo.
In the study, RFS was achieved in 75.4% of the patients treated with Keytruda over a year, compared to 61% for placebo. Keytruda also significantly prolonged RFS in patients with PD-L1 positive tumors by reducing risk of recurrence or death by 46% over placebo.
Data from the study will be presented at the American Association for Cancer Research ("AACR") Annual Meeting 2018 and will be published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Shares of Merck have outperformed the industry so far this year. Shares have returned 1.6% against the industry’s decline of 2.7% in the said period.
The study is being conducted in collaboration with the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer.
Merck claimed that Keytruda is the first anti-PD1 therapy to achieve RFS benefit in stage IIIA, IIIB and IIIC melanoma patients. The drug has achieved RFS benefit in patients irrespective of BRAF-mutation.
Merck is evaluating Keytruda in a broad clinical development program for melanoma comprising 10 clinical studies across all settings and stages of the disease.
In a separate press release, Merck and AstraZeneca (AZN - Free Report) announced final overall survival (“OS”) data from its phase III OlympiAD study evaluating PARP inhibitor, Lynparza, in metastatic breast cancer at the AACR Annual Meeting 2018. The median OS was 19.3 months in the Lynparza arm, compared to 17.1% for chemotherapy.
Please note that Bristol-Myers’ (BMY - Free Report) PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, Opdivo, had received approval for intravenous administration in melanoma patients as adjuvant treatment in December 2017. However, Keytruda has achieved RFS benefit in higher proportion of patients, compared to Opdivo in clinical studies.
Zacks Rank & Stock to Consider
Merck carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).
Eli Lilly and Company (LLY - Free Report) is a better-ranked stock in the pharma sector, carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.
Lilly’s earnings estimates slightly increased from $4.85 to $4.87 for 2018 and from $5.28 to $5.29 for 2019, over the last 30 days. The company delivered a positive earnings surprise in all the trailing four quarters, with an average beat of 4.08%. The company is scheduled to report first- quarter earnings on Apr 24.
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