Efficacy of Pembrolizumab Injection (Keytruda) in Cancer Treatment

Keytruda’s effectiveness for types of cancers makes it one of the most preferred drugs in oncology. It’s a monoclonal antibody (immunotherapy) that has shown greater efficacy in skin cancer treatment. Pembrolizumab (100mg/4ml) is its salt composition. Experts believe that this drug can be a miracle medicine. The only thing that makes it less accessible is the price. In this article, we shall discuss Pembrolizumab uses and the drug’s efficacy including its success rate.


Keytruda is a type of immunotherapy drug that blocks the activity of programmed cell death protein-1 (PD-1) receptors. Cancer tumors express PD-1 receptors that help them in tricking the immune system. The medicine thus helps reverse this phenomenon in order to cause cancer cell death (apoptosis).


The regimen is available as vials of strength 25mg/ml. It is made up of the following components.

Active ingredient: Pembrolizumab

Inactive ingredients: Sucrose, Polysorbate 80, L-histidine, and Water

Pembrolizumab Uses

As per the latest update, Pembrolizumab has been approved for the treatment of over 12 cancer types. However, experts believe that it may show greater efficacy in a few of them.

Advanced Melanoma

It is a kind of cancer of the skin. Keytruda injection is used for melanoma treatment in patients aged above 12 years. This means the drug is useful in managing tumors that have started spreading to nearby tissues. Its active ingredient may also help treat skin cancer that cannot be treated using surgery.

Metastatic Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

  • In this condition, Keytruda is usually indicated in combination with platinum-based chemo drug & pemetrexed. Experts believe that this medicine can be effective in non-squamous lung cancer treatment. Provided: Tumors do not have EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) or any other specific mutations.
  • In cancer cells that express PD-L1 (programmed death-ligand 1), Keytruda is indicated in combination with albumin-bound paclitaxel. Provided: It is stage III or cancer has reached the metastatic stage with no chance of surgery.
  • In patients who’ve already been given platinum-based chemo, this medicine is used as monotherapy. Provided: Tumors progressed after prior lung cancer medicine or therapy.

Urothelial Carcinoma

  • Patients having advanced urothelial cancer are often recommended this medicine. Provided: They can’t be further treated using platinum-based chemotherapy.
  • The regimen is also relevant for tumors of the bladder that are high-risk and unresectable.

Head & Neck Cancer

  • Given in combination with fluorouracil and platinum chemo, doctors prescribe this injection as first-line therapy. It is expected to treat unresectable tumors (cells that can’t be removed through surgery). Moreover, this drug is prescribed for recurrent head & neck cancer.
  • In patients experiencing tumor progression after platinum-based drugs, it is prescribed as monotherapy.

Cervical Cancer

  • In female patients diagnosed with PD-L1 tumors of the cervix, this medicine may be given. Oncologists prescribe it in combination with some chemo drugs. This combination therapy may or may not include bevacizumab. Pembrolizumab shows relevant results in recurrent and advanced-stage cervical cancer.
  • With relevance to the health history, it may be prescribed as monotherapy. This is applicable to patients who have been already treated with chemotherapy or showed disease progression.

Breast Cancer

Females having high-risk breast cancer that is triple-negative may be treated using the drug. In such cases, it is recommended as a part of neoadjuvant treatment. On the contrary, it is used in combination with chemotherapy in females having cancer cells that express PD-L1.

Blood Cancer

Amongst others, Keytruda is an effective regimen for lymphoma. It may help treat refractory tumors or cancer that has relapsed post two therapies. This drug is also used in the treatment of relapsed B-cell lymphoma.

Efficacy & Safety of Keytruda

With great insights, immunotherapy drugs like Pembrolizumab Injection have demonstrated an extended survival rate. However, it must not be neglected that a single therapy may not work for all. That’s because of different mutations, responses, ages, and concomitant medicines.

  • In a clinical study, this drug led to increased survival (from 4.9 months to 8.8 months) in lung cancer patients. Another study evaluated 410 patients who were given Keytruda (200mg) once in 21 days with pemetrexed. Experts claim that in 195 out of 420 patients, tumors were shrunk. Most patients were alive in both combination therapy and monotherapy groups.
  • In a study that involved patients receiving a 10mg/kg dose of the medicine, 50% of them showed a decreased chance of mortality. This study was conducted only on skin cancer patients.
  • In patients with urothelial carcinoma, the regimen (200mg) was given once every 21 days. 21% of patients had shrunk tumors as per the study analysis. At 3.3 months, about 81% of patients were stable with no disease progression.

Success Rate of Pembrolizumab Injection

Very few immunotherapy treatments were available in 2011. KEYNOTE-001 (clinical trial) started in the same year with the majority of individuals having already received targeted therapies. 550 patients with non-small cell lung cancer participated in the experiment. This included 449 patients who were treatment-experienced and 101 patients who were treatment-naive. Pembrolizumab was administered to all participants at a dose of either 2 mg/kg or 10 mg/kg every 21 days. The findings stated that 42% of patients showed a median response rate of 1.4 years. 23% of the total patients showed a 2.3-year median response rate.

With time, doses have been changed. But, the thing that remains constant is the success of such immunotherapy drugs.

Keytruda: Superior to Chemotherapy

The clinical trial KEYNOTE-024 was conducted initially to depict a comparison between this drug and chemotherapy. It involved patients suffering from non-small cell lung cancer. Plus, their disease expressed PD-L1.  With such specifications, patients were divided into the following dose categories.

  • Keytruda
  • Paclitaxel with carboplatin
  • Gemcitabine with cisplatin
  • Pemetrexed with carboplatin
  • Pemetrexed with cisplatin
  • Gemcitabine with carboplatin

Clinicians reported that in comparison with chemotherapy, Keytruda showed greater efficacy. Its mean overall survival was greater than chemo drugs by 12.1 months.


NOTE: For all of its approved indications, this drug must be used only on prescription. This injection is NOT indicated for self-use. Taking or selling it otherwise may lead to complications.