The drug pembrolizumab (trade name: Keytruda) has been approved in Germany since June 2017 for the treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma. It is a treatment option for adults if their cancer returns after stem cell transplantation and antibody treatment with brentuximab vedotin, or if these treatments were not effective enough.

The name “Hodgkin’s lymphoma” is used to describe a whole group of lymphatic system cancers caused by the uncontrolled growth of mutated white blood cells (lymphocytes). These lymphocytes can spread through the body via lymph vessels. Early symptoms of Hodgkin's lymphoma may include constantly swollen lymph nodes. If this type of cancer reaches an advanced stage, it may also spread to organs such as the liver, spleen or bone marrow.

The aim of treatment with pembrolizumab is to stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer.


Pembrolizumab comes in the form of a powder that is dissolved in a liquid and then given through an infusion (an IV drip), entering the bloodstream directly through a vein. The infusion is given every three weeks and lasts about 30 minutes each time. The dose will depend on the patient's body weight. This treatment is stopped if severe side effects occur or if the cancer continues to progress.

Other treatments

For people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma who didn’t benefit enough from treatment with brentuximab vedotin (alone or combined with stem cell transplantation), individually tailored treatment is an option. This treatment is adjusted depending on which treatments have been tried before. It is individually modified by the doctor.


In 2017, the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany) wanted to find out whether pembrolizumab has any advantages or disadvantages for people with Hodgkin's lymphoma when compared with the current standard treatments.

But the manufacturer didn’t provide any suitable data with which to do the assessment.

More information

This information summarizes the main results of a review produced by the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany). The review was commissioned by the German Federal Joint Committee (G-BA) as part of the “early benefit assessment of medications.” On the basis of the review and the hearings received, the G-BA passed a resolution on the added benefit of pembrolizumab (Keytruda).