Adjuvant Therapy in Patients With Stage IB-IIIA Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) Regardless of PD-L1 Expression

First Phase 3 Study To Demonstrate Statistically Significant Improvement in DFS in the Adjuvant Setting for Patients With Stage IB-IIIA NSCLC Regardless of PD-L1 Expression

Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) and the European Thoracic Oncology Platform (ETOP) today announced results from the pivotal Phase 3 KEYNOTE-091 trial, also known as EORTC-1416-LCG/ETOP-8-15 – PEARLS. The study found that adjuvant treatment with KEYTRUDA significantly improved disease-free survival (DFS), one of the dual primary endpoints, reducing the risk of disease recurrence or death by 24% compared to placebo (hazard ratio [HR]=0.76 [95% CI, 0.63-0.91]; p=0.0014) in patients with stage IB (≥4 centimeters) to IIIA non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) following surgical resection regardless of PD-L1 expression. Median DFS was 53.6 months for KEYTRUDA versus 42.0 months for placebo, an improvement of nearly one year. These data are being presented today during a European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Virtual Plenary and will be shared with regulatory authorities worldwide.

“Lung cancer is most treatable at earlier stages, and adding treatment after surgery may help reduce the risk of recurrence,” said Professor Mary O’Brien, consultant medical oncologist and head of the Lung Unit at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and professor of practice (medical oncology) at Imperial College London, as well as co-principal investigator. “We are encouraged by these new Phase 3 data, as they represent the first time adjuvant immunotherapy has demonstrated a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in disease-free survival for patients with stage IB-IIIA non-small cell lung cancer.”

“While significant advancements have been made in the treatment of metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, there remains an unmet need for patients with earlier stages of this disease, as up to 43% of them will experience disease recurrence following surgery,” said Dr. Luis Paz-Ares, chair of the medical oncology department, Hospital Universitario Doce de Octubre, Madrid, Spain and co-principal investigator. “The positive disease-free survival data observed in this study with the use of KEYTRUDA in the adjuvant setting has the potential to have important implications for how we treat patients with stage IB-IIIA non-small cell lung cancer.”

Merck has an extensive clinical development program in lung cancer and is advancing multiple registration-enabling studies, with research directed at earlier stages of disease and novel combinations. Key studies in earlier stages of NSCLC include KEYNOTE-091, KEYNOTE-671, KEYNOTE-867 and KEYLYNK-012.


The European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation, which unites clinical cancer research experts, throughout Europe, to define better treatments for cancer patients to prolong survival and improve quality of life. Spanning from translational to large, prospective, multi-centre, phase III clinical trials that evaluate new therapies and treatment strategies as well as patient quality of life, its activities are coordinated from EORTC Headquarters, a unique international clinical research infrastructure, based in Brussels, Belgium.

About ETOP

The European Thoracic Oncology Platform (ETOP) is a foundation promoting exchange and research in the field of thoracic malignancies in Europe. It is a not-for-profit organization, domiciled in Bern, Switzerland. Since 2009 ETOP been able to bring together international leaders in field of thoracic malignancies from all disciplines and has continuously enlarged its clinical trial and translational research activity in collaboration with many groups and institutions from 20 countries from Europe and beyond.

For further information, please visit the ETOP website:

About Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide. In 2020 alone, there were more than 2.2 million new cases and 1.8 million deaths from lung cancer globally. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for about 82% of all cases. In the U.S., the overall five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with lung cancer is 24%, a 14% improvement over the last five years. Improving survival rates are due in part to earlier detection and screening, reduction in smoking, advances in diagnostic and surgical procedures as well as the introduction of new therapies.

About Merck’s Research in Lung Cancer

Merck is advancing research aimed at transforming the way lung cancer is treated, with a goal of improving outcomes for patients affected by this deadly disease. Through nearly 200 clinical trials evaluating more than 36,000 patients around the world, Merck is at the forefront of lung cancer research. In advanced NSCLC, KEYTRUDA has four approved U.S. indications (see indications below), and is approved in advanced NSCLC in more than 95 countries. Among Merck’s research efforts are trials focused on evaluating KEYTRUDA in earlier stages of lung cancer as well as identifying new combinations and coformulations with KEYTRUDA.

About Merck’s Early-Stage Cancer Clinical Program

Finding cancer at an earlier stage may give patients a greater chance of long-term survival. Many cancers are considered most treatable and potentially curable in their earliest stage of disease. Building on the strong understanding of the role of KEYTRUDA in later-stage cancers, Merck is studying KEYTRUDA in earlier disease states, with approximately 20 ongoing registrational studies across multiple types of cancer.

About Merck

For over 130 years, Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases in pursuit of our mission to save and improve lives. We demonstrate our commitment to patients and population health by increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, Merck continues to be at the forefront of research to prevent and treat diseases that threaten people and animals – including cancer, infectious diseases such as HIV and Ebola, and emerging animal diseases – as we aspire to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company in the world.

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