Keytruda: Merck’s Immuno-oncology Blockbuster


Aug. 15 2016, Updated 11:05 a.m. ET


Keytruda, a prescription medicine classified under Merck and Co.’s (MRK) Immuno-oncology franchise, is used to treat non-small cell lung cancer as well as melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Keytruda was launched by Merck in 4Q14, and global sales reported for 2Q16 were ~$314 million as compared to $110 million for 2Q15.

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Uses of Keytruda 

Keytruda is used for the treatment of melanoma when melanoma has spread or cannot be removed by surgery (advanced melanoma) and the medicine ipilimumab did not work or is no longer working, and the tumor has an abnormal “BRAF” gene and BRAF inhibitors didn’t work.

Keytruda is also used for non-small cell lung cancer when cancer has spread and tests positive for “PD-L1,” and chemotherapy containing platinum doesn’t work, and the tumor has an abnormal “EGFR” or “ALK” gene, but EGFR or ALK inhibitors didn’t work.

Geographical reach

In the US, Keytruda has ~70% of anti-PD-1 patient share in melanoma and is the number one therapy for melanoma in the US across all classes of treatment. For outside the US markets, Keytruda is launching in around 40 markets, including the European Union. Keytruda is approved for advanced first-line and second-line melanoma in the EU. Overall, Keytruda’s clinical development program includes studies for more than 30 tumor types in more than 160 clinical trials.

Some of the EGFR inhibitors used to treat various types of cancer include Iressa from AstraZeneca (AZN), Tarceva from Astellas Pharma (ALPMY), Tykerb from Novartis (NVS), Erbitux from Eli Lilly (LLY), and Vectibix from Amgen (AMGN). Investors can consider ETFs like the PowerShares Dynamic Pharmaceutical ETF (PJP), which holds ~4.9% of its total assets in Merck, in order to divest the risk.


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