Merck & Co.’s cancer drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) was more successful at improving survival odds of patients with melanoma than the Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Yervoy (lpilimumab) in a clinical trial that pitted the two drugs against each other.
Keytruda and Yervoy are immunotherapies that work differently to toughen the body’s immune system to destroy cancerous tumors. Yervoy has emerged as the first-line treatment for advanced melanoma since its approval in 2011. Keytruda was approved in 2014 to treat melanoma in patients whose disease progressed after treatment with Yervoy.
Yervoy was the first medication approved for advanced melanoma that studies showed could prolong life. Keytruda’s success, which includes fewer side effects, is expected to change the treatment landscape for advanced melanoma.
Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer because it can be aggressive and spread quickly to other parts of the body making it difficult to treat. About 76,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed each year in the United States.
There are several risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of developing melanoma, including exposure to UV light from sun tanning or using tanning beds, having moles on the body, a family history of melanoma, light or fair complexion, and a personal history of any type of skin cancer.
Some medications can make people more susceptible to melanoma. For example, the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra works on the same genetic pathways as melanoma, which has led to studies that have linked use of Viagra to an increased risk of melanoma.
Men who currently use Viagra or who have ever used the drug are advised to use extra protection while in the sun and avoid excessive sun exposure.