How Big can Merck's Keytruda be in Lung Cancer? It's Too Early to Call in the PD-L1 Arms Race! | Diaceutics

How Big can Merck’s Keytruda be in Lung Cancer? It’s Too Early to Call in the PD-L1 Arms Race!

May 19th, 2015

Peter Keeling
Maria Fe Paz

Maria Fe Paz and Peter Keeling of Diaceutics discuss the competitiveness of the PD-L1 market and highlight that the key to success, for those in pharma, will be ensuring they leverage all the test adoption drivers to support uptake of the therapy.

And so the PD-L1 arms race draws its first battle lines with Keytruda outperforming Opdivo prescriptions by approximately two to one in the initial melanoma indication. Congratulations must go to Merck for pipping BMS at the post and being first into the market, and also for their nice, clear messaging: My immune system + Keytruda = Help to fight tumors.

However, if there was ever a ‘marathon, not a sprint’ scenario, it is in the PD-L1 space. Multiple drugs, multiple therapy combinations, multiple pharma marketing teams and, of course, multiple PD-L1 tests, will all have to play out in this space. As the FIRST truly competitive personalized medicine battle, it will be intriguing to observe how the development teams hand over to the commercial and launch teams within Pfizer/Merck KGaG, BMS, AZ and Roche/Genentech and work through this highly complex melange, without further confusing the clinical, laboratory and patient community about best treatment options.

As many of you know, our Diaceutics’ particular lens on PD-L1 is about the efficiency of testing and its seamless integration into the treatment pathway. Frankly, we are concerned that the current landscape for seamless clinical testing is more reminiscent of the HER2 testing journey, which took some four to five years to sort out (i.e., make seamless) and which lost Roche/Genentech, by our estimates, at least $3 billion in potential lost revenues[i].  Having said that, we are tracking very closely and will report on any clinical disruption resulting from inadequate marketplace preparation for PD-L1 testing, with a view to articulating gaps and solutions. We also hope to measure the financial impact of any lost treatment opportunity so we can all recognize the return on investment by optimizing clinical testing.

Success for these effective immuno-oncology therapies will be determined not only by the smart design of clinical trials and effective therapy combinations, but also by a simple test-centric axis along which we’ll consider points such as what triggers a physician to order a PD-L1 test? Which one will he order? Will the laboratory he normally orders from have the test? How will the laboratory interpret the result?  And what percentage of those expressing PD-L1 will he treat?

The pharma company that can join up these dots will have a market advantage, and it is for this reason that it is far too early to call this particular race.


2015 ASCO Annual Meeting  

With the many abstracts to be presented at ASCO on PDL1, @diaceutics will be tweeting about PDL1 live from the event to track how the competitive arena is evolving.

[i] Herceptin Case Study is available here:


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