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Pembrolizumab, also known by the brand name Keytruda, was approved in October 2021 as a first-line therapy for patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer. The caveat: To receive the therapy, patients’ tumors had to express PD-L1, a protein known to hamper the immune system’s response to cancer cells. Now new phase 3 clinical trial results presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting suggest that adding pembrolizumab to chemotherapy can benefit this patient population regardless of their PD-L1 expression.

Headshot of Dr. Robert Wenham

Dr. Robert Wenham, Chair, Gynecologic Oncology Department

The KEYNOTE-826 trial enrolled 617 patients who were assigned to receive either pembrolizumab with chemotherapy or placebo with chemotherapy, with or without the targeted therapy bevacizumab. At a median follow-up of 39.1 months, the pembrolizumab and chemotherapy combination therapy improved both overall survival and progression free survival in all participants, regardless of PD-L1 expression or if bevacizumab was administered. The combination therapy also reduced the risk of death by 37%.

Dr. Robert Wenham, chair of the Gynecologic Oncology Department at Moffitt Cancer Center, says the results are promising. “It is great to see the long term follow-up results of KEYNOTE-826 validating the use of pembrolizumab in patients with advanced or recurrent cervical cancer.  This firmly establishes the role of immune checkpoint therapy in these patients, particularly those with PD-L1 positive tumors,” he said.