Merck to pause two late-stage studies testing Keytruda in myeloma

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Merck & Co said it paused enrolments in two late-stage studies testing its immunotherapy drug, Keytruda, for multiple myeloma, in combination with other therapies, as the US drugmaker looks to better understand more reports of death in the Keytruda groups.

The company's shares were down 1.4 pct at $63.50 in after-market trading on Monday. These checkpoints, including Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo, have had a major impact for some patients, unleashing an immune system attack on cancer cells in a variety of tumors. It's one of Merck's biggest products and is expected to generate $3.59 billion in sales this year, according to analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Keytruda is already approved to treat lung cancer and advanced melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

An external monitoring committee recommended halting enrollment.

Merck said the action followed recommendation by an external data monitoring committee and that patients now enrolled in the two studies would continue to receive the treatment. Merck spokeswoman Pamela Eisele declined to comment beyond the statement.

The final-stage studies of the drug were examining how Merck's drug works in combination with other multiple myeloma treatments. The trials involve combinations with Celgene's Pomalyst as well as its flagship drug Revlimid in a field Celgene dominates in.