Merck and NanoString have partnered up in a study for developing a drug which allows better immune-mediated response from the body towards cancer tumors. This program targets the development of Merck`s Keytruda drug which is currently being used to treat terminal stage melanoma.
Keytruda is a drug whose active substance is pembrolizumab, a substance which is meant to boost the body`s immune reaction towards cancer cells. However, in order to make sure that the drug is only targeting cells that have a specific mutated DNA (a cancer cell), Merck wants to study perfectly the gene expression signature of cancerous cells.
This is where NanoString comes into play. NanoString plans on using cutting edge new tools to study the DNA and RNA of cancer cells and figure out what exactly is their genetic expression so that the new and improved Keytruda drug will offer cancer patients a better outcome.
Keytruda is a drug that targets one of the most powerful evasive tools that tumor cells have and that is, their ability to not be destroyed by the body`s immune system. It is able to do so, because of a substance which occupies the immune`s cell receptor site, which is located on the surface of the cancer cell.
The substance in question is called a PD ligand and the Keytruda`s mission is to destroy it so as to free up the path for the immune system to kick in and kill off cancer cells.
Currently, Keytruda is being used to treat final stage cases of melanoma which have not responded to ipilimumab treatment and it has not yet been established whether or not Keytruda offers benefits in treating this disease.
However, Merck has great faith in its new drug and plans on embarking on a large study conducted on 16,000 cancer patients to see how well Keytruda helps the human immune system destroy cancer cells. Patients admitted in the study will receive the Keytruda drug alone or in combination with other drugs.
Merck also wants to implement Keytruda in other types of cancer treatment besides advanced melanoma, types of cancers like gastric cancer, head and neck cancer and bladder cancer are being considered.
Keytruda is a powerful drug which can cause severe side effects like pneumonitis , colitis, hepatitis, hypophysitis, nephritis, hyperthyroidism and other immune-mediated reactions.
AstraZeneca and Lilly pharmaceutical companies have also announced that they are stepping up with their own improved anti PD ligand drug and this just goes to show that pharmaceutical companies have started to focus more and more on immune mediated therapy which seems to be the future in terms of cancer treatment.
Image Source: wired