Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for the further treatment of advanced melanoma

In 2015, the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany) wanted to find out whether pembrolizumab (trade name: Keytruda) has any advantages or disadvantages when compared with the standard treatments for people with advanced melanoma who have had unsuccessful treatment. The standard treatment depends on things like which drug was used before and is individually tailored by the doctor.

To answer the research question, the researchers analyzed the data from one study. One group of participants (91 people) received pembrolizumab, while another group (97 people) received ipilimumab. For people who have had treatment before and who have the option of receiving ipilimumab, the study provided relevant results. These results are described below.

The study didn't provide suitable data for people who don't have the option of using ipilimumab. So it remains unclear whether pembrolizumab has any advantages or disadvantages for these people.

What are the advantages of pembrolizumab?

  • Severe side effects and treatment stopped due to side effects: The study provided some that pembrolizumab can delay the onset of severe side effects. It also provided some that pembrolizumab can delay the point at which people stop treatment due to side effects.

What are the disadvantages of pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab wasn’t found to have any disadvantages compared to ipilimumab.

No difference

  • Life expectancy: No difference was found between pembrolizumab and ipilimumab here.
  • Symptoms: Both treatment groups experienced an increase in disease-related symptoms after the same length of time. Disease-related symptoms include loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, , insomnia, pains, nausea and vomiting, as well as constipation.
  • Quality of life: There was also no difference regarding how long it took for quality of life to decrease.

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany). Pembrolizumab – Benefit assessment according to §35a Social Code Book V. Dossier assessment; Commission A15-33. November 12, 2015. (IQWiG Reports; Volume 339).

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Updated on July 18, 2019
Next planned update: 2022


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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