Chemotherapy and radiation therapies are some of the most well-known treatments for cancer. While these modern approaches to cancer are effective, some cancers, especially those in advanced stages, may not respond well to them, if at all. Doctors have continued to research and test alternative treatments, in the hopes of finding new ways to help treat their patients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently passed a drug that differs in many ways from traditional treatments but has so far proved quite effective in specific cases.
Keytruda may have promise as a new, viable cancer treatment. The FDA’s Office of Hematology and Oncology described it as, “an important first for the cancer community.” This new drug stands out from other cancer treatments in that it does not target a tumor’s bodily location. Instead, the drug looks for specific genetic traits associated with a particular patient’s tumor. Specifically, Keytruda targets tumors with a genetic defect known as mismatch repair deficiency, meaning that the person’s cells cannot effectively repair damage to DNA. Determining whether or not a tumor contains this defect is crucial to the Keytruda treatment, as this could make it more susceptible to the drug. When used as a treatment, Keytruda assists the immune system in fighting against tumors by blocking out cancerous materials in the body.
Keytruda could prove to be a huge advancement in the cancer community, but that does not mean it is cheap. In her article covering the drug’s approval, Emily Brun of the MIT Technology Review cited oncologist, Dung Le, who said that the genetic tests required to accurately identify whether or not patients have gene defect “are widely available and cost $300 to $600”. Furthermore, according to Le the cost of Keytruda itself will be, “around $150,000 a year.” Alongside the need for the mismatch repair deficiency, these expenses may limit which patients can afford this revolutionary treatment.
Like all treatments, Keytruda has potential side effects and risks. In its press release press release, the FDA stated the known side effects of the drug, including, “fatigue, itchy skin (pruritus), diarrhea, decreased appetite, rash, fever (pyrexia), cough, difficulty breathing (dyspnea), musculoskeletal pain, constipation and nausea”. Keytruda also has the potential to cause “immune-mediated side effects, including inflammation of healthy organs such as the lungs (pneumonitis), colon (colitis), liver (hepatitis), endocrine glands (endocrinopathies) and kidneys (nephritis). Complications or death related to allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation after using Keytruda has occurred.” Patients should be aware of these potential side effects and discuss the risks and benefits of the treatment with their doctor.
Read More Here: Drug Is First to Treat Cancer Based on Genetics, Not Location, FDA approves first cancer treatment for any solid tumor with a specific genetic feature, ‘This is not the end’: Using immunotherapy and a genetic glitch to give cancer patients hope