Merck's Keytruda prolongs life in big lung-cancer study

June 16 (Reuters) - Advanced lung cancer patients who took Merck & Co’s Keytruda immuno-oncology medicine in a large trial and were previously untreated went longer without their disease worsening and showed a survival advantage over those given standard chemotherapy, the drugmaker said on Thursday.

An independent data monitoring board recommended that the late-stage trial be stopped due to the favorable results, Merck said, thereby allowing patients who were taking chemotherapy to switch over to the company’s treatment.

Keytruda, which takes the brakes off the immune system by blocking a protein called PD-1, is already approved for patients who have undergone previous chemotherapy for advanced non-small lung cancer. Merck hopes the new data will allow the injectable drug, which has a list price of about $150,000 a year, to be used earlier as a treatment for the most common form of lung cancer.

The company, whose shares rose 1.1 percent in early trading, said it would provide detailed data from the study at an upcoming medical meeting. (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)