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FDA Approves New Cancer Immunotherapy

September 04, 2014

I’m writing today to share exciting news: just hours ago the FDA approved a new immunotherapy for the treatment of cancer. This game-changing breakthrough has the potential to dramatically improve treatment of many different types of cancer.  

Keytruda (pembrolizumab)Known as Keytruda (pembrolizumab), and made by the drug company Merck, the drug belongs to a class of immunotherapies called checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs “take the brakes off” the immune response to cancer. They represent the most promising new cancer therapies to emerge in decades.

Merck’s drug is the first FDA approved checkpoint inhibitor targeting a molecule called PD-1. The drug has been approved for the treatment of advanced or inoperable melanoma in patients who have failed prior treatment.

I am proud to say that the Cancer Research Institute has played a central role in the basic science and clinical research that paved the way for the FDA approval of this important new drug. We funded the work of three scientists—Arlene Sharpe, Gordon Freeman, and Lieping Chen—whose research was crucial in establishing PD-1 as a new checkpoint that could be targeted with immunotherapy. Multiple CRI graduate students and postdoctoral fellows worked in these labs over the course of 15 years. More recently, Antoni Ribas, at UCLA, who is a member of our clinical trials network and a CRI-SU2C Dream Team Co-Leader, was a principal investigator of the trial that established the drug’s efficacy. And just this year, we announced that we will award our highest honor, the William B. Coley Award, to the four scientists whose laboratory work made this drug possible.

I am incredibly optimistic that checkpoint inhibitors like Keytruda as well as other immunotherapies in development, especially when used in combination, will ultimately transform the treatment of many if not all types of cancer. It is a wonderful day for patients.

This approval once again demonstrates the power of cancer research to save lives, and invigorates our resolve to continue funding cutting-edge research that leads to effective immune system-based cancer treatments.

Many thanks for all you do to help this and other cancer immunotherapies come to life.

*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

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