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Merck sets the bar high for rivals with positive Keytruda trial results

Merck (MRK) shares rose as much as 7% after the company stated that one of its key drugs successfully met its goal in a late-stage clinical trial. Merck is hell-bent on becoming a major player in the lucrative immune-oncology space as its blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda met its goal of extending the lifespan of cancer patients.

Courtesy - Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy – Wikimedia Commons

The drug was hitherto known to benefit only patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who have not received prior treatment as well as those with tumors with higher levels of PD-L1 protein. But the latest clinical report suggests that Keytruda treats even those with the protein expression lower than 50.

Touted as a game-changer therapy in oncology, Keytruda witnessed a strong demand in patients with advanced melanoma, first-line lung cancer, as well as head-and-neck cancer. The drug – launched in nearly 50 international markets—has received widespread approval as an effective therapy.

With this latest update, Merck has expanded its market and has set a high bar for its rivals including Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and Swedish biopharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca Plc (AZN).

Credit Suisse expects Merck’s blockbuster drug to generate over $10 billion in sales by 2023.

Meanwhile, Incyte (INCY) shares traded in red after the company stated that it’s closely watched drug epacadostat failed to boost the effectiveness of Keytruda when the two were combined to treat those who were newly diagnosed with cancer.

Merck has been, over the years, increasing its dependence on cancer portfolio for growth. During the fourth quarter of 2017, Keytruda’s revenue rose to $1.3 billion from a mere $484 million a year ago.

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