Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY) Announces Presentation of Positive Data from ALIMTA + KEYTRUDA Study in NSCLC (MRK)

October 10, 2016 6:30 AM EDT

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Important clinical study results from one of Eli Lilly and Company's (NYSE: LLY) ongoing immuno-oncology collaborations with Merck (known as MSD outside the U.S. and Canada) were announced today at the ESMO 2016 Congress, the annual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology. Specifically, data released from KEYNOTE-021, Cohort G, which evaluated ALIMTA (pemetrexed) plus carboplatin in combination with Merck's KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) in the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), showed that the combination of ALIMTA, KEYTRUDA and carboplatin demonstrated superior efficacy compared to ALIMTA and carboplatin – standard of care – alone.

In KEYNOTE-021, Cohort G, which included patients with advanced nonsquamous NSCLC regardless of PD-L1 expression level, the combination of pemetrexed, pembrolizumab and carboplatin achieved a 55 percent objective response rate (ORR) compared to 29 percent for pemetrexed-plus-carboplatin alone, and reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 47 percent. Median progression-free survival (PFS) was 13.0 months with the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination. To date, this combination of pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin is the only anti-PD-1-containing regimen to demonstrate superior efficacy compared to chemotherapy alone in NSCLC patients receiving first-line treatment.

"These randomized study data of ALIMTA and KEYTRUDA in first-line nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer build on the early results we've seen in this combination and are very encouraging," said Richard Gaynor, M.D., senior vice president, product development and medical affairs for Lilly Oncology. "To see a near-doubling in the number of patients responding to this combination gives us hope for what may be able to be achieved above and beyond what is seen with the ALIMTA-containing standard-of-care regimen. These types of clinical advancements are truly exciting as we continue our pursuit to bring meaningful benefits to patients facing cancer."

Dr. Gaynor added, "These data also reflect the progress that Lilly is making in its oncology R&D strategy to develop cancer treatments across three key areas of disease modification: tumor cell signaling, tumor microenvironment and immuno-oncology. This approach allows for testing of combinations of internally derived agents to address tumor heterogeneity and drug resistance, through our own efforts and research collaborations."

KEYNOTE-021, Cohort G, included 123 previously untreated patients with advanced nonsquamous NSCLC regardless of PD-L1 expression and whose tumors did not have EGFR mutations or ALK translocations. Patients were randomized to receive the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination (n=60) or pemetrexed-plus-carboplatin (n=63). Patients randomized to the pemetrexed-plus-carboplatin control arm had the option of crossing over to pembrolizumab monotherapy upon disease progression. The median follow-up was 10.6 months (range, 0.8-19.3).

The findings demonstrated that ORR nearly doubled with the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination, with an ORR of 55 percent (n=33/60), compared to 29 percent (n=18/63) for the control arm alone (treatment difference 26%, 95% CI, 9-42% p=0.0016); all responses were partial. Median duration of response was not reached in either group (range, 1.4+-13.0+ for the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination; 1.4+-15.2+ for the control arm). Responses in both groups were durable, with 88 percent (n=29/33) of responders in the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination group and 78 percent (n=14/18) of responders in the control arm group experiencing ongoing response at the time of data cut-off.

Additionally, the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination significantly reduced the risk of disease progression or death compared to the control arm (hazard ratio 0.53, 95% CI, 0.31-0.91, p=0.0102). Median PFS was 13.0 months with the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination compared to 8.9 months in the control arm. Overall survival (OS) was similar between the two arms, with 92 percent survival at six months in both, and 75 percent and 72 percent survival at 12 months in the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination and control arm, respectively.

Of treated patients on the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination arm, 47 percent remained on treatment as of the cut-off date, compared to 31 percent on the control arm. Of the treated patients who discontinued treatment on the control arm, 52 percent (n=32/62) subsequently received anti-PD-L1 therapy, with 32 percent crossing over to pembrolizumab monotherapy as allowed by the study protocol and 19 percent receiving it outside of study crossover.

Additional Safety Information from KEYNOTE-021, Cohort G The most common treatment-related adverse events (occurring in at least 15% of patients) for the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination were fatigue, nausea, anemia, rash, vomiting, diarrhea, increased AST, constipation, decreased appetite, increased ALT, dysgeusia, and decreased neutrophils. Grade 3-4 treatment-related adverse events in this arm included fatigue, nausea, anemia, rash, vomiting, increased AST, increased ALT, and decreased neutrophils. The most common immune-mediated adverse events in patients receiving the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination were hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Additionally, pneumonitis, infusion reactions, and severe skin toxicity were noted. These immune-mediated adverse events occurred at similar rates to patients receiving pembrolizumab as a single agent. There was one treatment-related death from sepsis in a patient receiving the pemetrexed-pembrolizumab-carboplatin combination, and two (one from sepsis and one from pancytopenia) in patients on the control arm.

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