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Partnership Turns Focus to Targeted Therapy for Mesothelioma Patients


Immunotherapy is still a relatively new treatment for mesothelioma and other cancers, and researchers continue to work to increase its effectiveness. In the latest news involving the immunotherapy drug Keytruda, shown effective in some mesothelioma patients, the maker of the drug is joining efforts with a company that develops companion diagnostics for immuno-oncology drugs. The collaboration could bring personalized care one step closer to mesothelioma patients.

Last month, Foundation Medicine announced that they signed a deal with Merck that will use the company’s FoundationOne CDx™ genomic profiling assay to create a pan-cancer companion diagnostic to measure microsatellite instability (MSI), tumor mutational burden (TMB), and additional novel biomarkers that could indicate tumor response to Keytruda.

Keytruda is an FDA-approved PD-L1 inhibitor immunotherapy drug for lung cancer and melanoma patients that activates the body’s immune system, leading it to attack and kill the cancer cells. Although Keytruda has given some mesothelioma patients many more months of life, it does not work for everyone. In May, the FDA agreed with Merck that by targeting any cancer patient with the MSI biomarker regardless of cancer type, the drug could be more effective, and granted accelerated approval to Keytruda as a treatment based solely on the genetic mutations of a cancer and not on the type of cancer. Now, the use of the FoundationOne companion diagnostic can better identify mesothelioma and other cancer patients deemed susceptible to the cancer-fighting benefits of Keytruda.

“By collaborating, Merck and Foundation Medicine can continue to push the frontier on innovation in immuno-oncology and personalized cancer care, making a positive difference in the lives of individuals with cancer,” said Melanie Nallicheri, chief business officer and head, biopharma for Foundation Medicine.

A diagnosis of mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer, comes with a poor prognosis. The cancer often fights off the standard treatments, but when oncologists turn to personalized care targeted to the patient’s unique cancer characteristics, such as biomarkers, the chance for survival improves. Using a companion diagnostic tool, according to Foundation Medicine, “provides physicians with necessary information to both rule-in and rule-out potential treatment options” helping to “accelerate patient access to personalized healthcare.”

“Rapidly evolving knowledge of cancer biology and immuno-oncology continues to improve understanding of how to deploy our medicines to identify those patients most likely to respond effectively,” said Dr. Eric Rubin senior vice president oncology clinical development, Merck Research Laboratories.

According to a team of researchers from Denmark, and other countries, focused on the regulatory aspects of companion diagnostics, “companion diagnostics holds the promise of improving the predictability of the oncology drug development process” and could someday become critical to oncologists when determining the most effective treatment for a patient.

Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. This collaboration and focus on patient-centric medicine brings hope to the mesothelioma community.


  • Foundation Medicine
  • regulatory aspects of companion diagnostics
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