PRESS RELEASE: KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) Reduced the Risk of Distant Metastasis or Death by 40% Compared Versus Placebo as Adjuvant Treatment in Resected, High-Risk Stage III Melanoma


Long-Term Findings From EORTC1325/KEYNOTE-054 Show Adjuvant KEYTRUDA Demonstrated a Sustained Recurrence-Free Survival Benefit Versus Placebo Across Stage IIIA (>1 mm Lymph Node Metastasis), IIIB and IIIC Melanoma

Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, USA Is Advancing a Broad Clinical Program Evaluating KEYTRUDA for the Early Treatment of Cancer

KENILWORTH, N.J., and BRUSSELS, Sep. 19, 2020 – Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A., known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, and the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) today announced new and updated findings from the Phase 3 EORTC1325/KEYNOTE-054 trial evaluating KEYTRUDA, MSD’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as adjuvant therapy in resected, high-risk stage III melanoma. Late-breaking, first-time study results showed that with 3.5 years of follow-up, adjuvant KEYTRUDA met the key secondary endpoint of distant metastasis-free survival (DMFS), reducing the risk of distant metastasis or death by 40% versus placebo (HR=0.60 [95% CI, 0.49-0.73]; p<0.001), with 3.5-year DMFS rates of 65.3% and 49.4%, respectively. In addition, KEYTRUDA demonstrated a sustained recurrence-free survival (RFS) benefit versus placebo across stage IIIA (>1 mm lymph node metastasis), IIIB and IIIC melanoma, with 3.5-year RFS rates of 59.8% for KEYTRUDA versus 41.4% for placebo (HR = 0.59 [95% CI, 0.49-0.70]; p<0.001). The RFS and DMFS benefits were observed across key subgroups, including disease stages (both according to AJCC-7 and AJCC-8), BRAF mutation status and PD-L1 expression.

“Despite surgical intervention, patients diagnosed with high-risk stage III melanoma can experience disease recurrence, and for those with distant metastasis, they often face a significantly worse prognosis,” said Alexander Eggermont, study chair, Chief Scientific Officer Princess Máxima Center, Utrecht, Netherlands. “These new and updated data, including first-time results for distant metastasis-free survival are significant, showing that adjuvant KEYTRUDA not only delayed recurrence but also delayed distant metastasis, further reinforcing the benefits of KEYTRUDA for these patients with stage III melanoma.”

“In KEYNOTE-054, adjuvant treatment with KEYTRUDA also continued to demonstrate long-term improvements in the prevention of new disease compared to placebo, with nearly 60% of patients alive and recurrence-free after 3.5 years,” said Dr. Scot Ebbinghaus, vice president, clinical research, MSD Research Laboratories. “Taken together with the new distant metastasis-free survival results shown in this trial, these data point to the important role KEYTRUDA plays in melanoma in the adjuvant setting and are encouraging for the evaluation of KEYTRUDA in earlier disease states in other tumor types.”

These late-breaking data were presented as a proffered paper at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Virtual Congress 2020 on Saturday, Sept. 19 (Abstract #LBA46). As announced, data spanning more than 15 types of cancer will be presented from MSD’s broad oncology portfolio and investigational pipeline at the congress. A compendium of presentations and posters is available here.

KEYTRUDA is currently approved for the adjuvant treatment of patients with melanoma with involvement of lymph node(s) following complete resection in more than 70 countries based on the results from EORTC1325/KEYNOTE-054. Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A.’s broad clinical development program in melanoma and skin cancers is addressing areas of unmet need by investigating KEYTRUDA in earlier stages of disease and in combination with other anti-cancer therapies across multiple potential registration-enabling studies, including KEYNOTE-716, LEAP-003 and LEAP-004. 

EORTC1325/KEYNOTE-054 Trial Design and Additional Subgroup Data (Abstract #LBA8)

EORTC1325/KEYNOTE-054 (, NCT02362594) is a Phase 3, randomized, double-blind study sponsored by Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. and conducted in collaboration with the EORTC designed to evaluate adjuvant therapy with KEYTRUDA compared versus placebo in patients with resected, high-risk melanoma (stage IIIA [>1 mm lymph node metastasis], IIIB and IIIC). The co-primary endpoints are RFS for all patients and RFS in patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1. Secondary endpoints include DMFS and overall survival (OS) in all patients and in patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1. Data from a three-year analysis of RFS were presented in the virtual scientific program of the 2020 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. In accordance with the trial protocol, the study is continuing in order to evaluate secondary endpoint of OS; however, upon documented recurrence, patients were eligible for crossover/re-challenge with KEYTRUDA.

Key Subgroup Analysis Results From EORTC1325/KEYNOTE-054
3.5-Year DMFS Rate, % DMFS, HR P-Value (Log Rank)*
PD-L1 Positive (n=853) KEYTRUDA 66.7% 0.61 (95% CI, 0.49-0.76) <0.001
Placebo 51.6%
PD-L1 Negative (n=116) KEYTRUDA 58.0% 0.49 (99% CI, 0.24-0.99) 0.008
Placebo 40.2%
With BRAF V600 E/K Mutation (n=440) KEYTRUDA 63.7% 0.53 (99% CI, 0.36-0.77) <0.001
Placebo 43.4%
Without BRAF Mutation (n=449) KEYTRUDA 62.1% 0.73 (99% CI, 0.50-1.07) 0.035
Placebo 51.4%
*Stratified by stage given at randomization

In addition, the DMFS benefit demonstrated with KEYTRUDA was similar in patients with AJCC-7 stage IIIA (HR=0.64), IIIB (HR=0.58) and IIIC (HR=0.61) melanoma. Adjuvant KEYTRUDA decreased the incidence of distant metastasis as a first recurrence by 43% (at 3.5 years: 24.9% versus 39.5%, HR= 0.57 [95% CI, 0.46-0.72]; p<0.001).

No new safety data were identified as part of the 42-month analysis. The safety profile of KEYTRUDA was consistent with what has been seen in previously reported studies among patients with advanced melanoma. Grade 3-5 immune-related adverse events occurred in 7.7% of patients who received KEYTRUDA and 0.6% of patients who received placebo.


European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) is an academic clinical research organization, bringing together investigators from all disciplines, across all tumour types, to conduct research that improves quality of life and survival of cancer patients. It conducts research from translational to large, prospective, multi-centre, phase III clinical trials evaluating new therapies and treatment strategies as well as quality of life of patients. EORTC network comprises more than 5300 professionals in over 1000 hospitals and institutes in more than 30 countries, supported by Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

About Melanoma

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is characterized by the uncontrolled

growth of pigment-producing cells. The incidence of melanoma has been increasing over the

past few decades – approximately 287,000 new cases were diagnosed worldwide in 2018. In the U.S., melanoma is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed and is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. In 2020, more than 100,000 people are expected to be diagnosed, and nearly 7,000 people are expected to die of the disease in the U.S. alone.

About KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) Injection, 100 mg

KEYTRUDA is an anti-PD-1 therapy that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells. KEYTRUDA is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2, thereby activating T lymphocytes which may affect both tumor cells and healthy cells.

Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. has the industry’s largest immuno-oncology clinical research program. There are currently more than 1,200 trials studying KEYTRUDA across a wide variety of cancers and treatment settings. The KEYTRUDA clinical program seeks to understand the role of KEYTRUDA across cancers and the factors that may predict a patient’s likelihood of benefitting from treatment with KEYTRUDA, including exploring several different biomarkers.

Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A.’s Focus on Cancer

Our goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A., the potential to bring new hope to people with cancer drives our purpose and supporting accessibility to our cancer medicines is our commitment. As part of our focus on cancer, Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. is committed to exploring the potential of immuno-oncology with one of the largest development programs in the industry across more than 30 tumor types. We also continue to strengthen our portfolio through strategic acquisitions and are prioritizing the development of several promising oncology candidates with the potential to improve the treatment of advanced cancers. For more information about our oncology clinical trials, visit

About Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A.

For more than 125 years, Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A., known as MSD outside of 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 & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. 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. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.


Forward-Looking Statement of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA

This news release of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA (the “company”) includes “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are based upon the current beliefs and expectations of the company’s management and are subject to significant risks and uncertainties. There can be no guarantees with respect to pipeline products that the products will receive the necessary regulatory approvals or that they will prove to be commercially successful. If underlying assumptions prove inaccurate or risks or uncertainties materialize, actual results may differ materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements.

Risks and uncertainties include but are not limited to, general industry conditions and competition; general economic factors, including interest rate and currency exchange rate fluctuations; the impact of the global outbreak of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19); the impact of pharmaceutical industry regulation and health care legislation in the United States and internationally; global trends toward health care cost containment; technological advances, new products and patents attained by competitors; challenges inherent in new product development, including obtaining regulatory approval; the company’s ability to accurately predict future market conditions; manufacturing difficulties or delays; financial instability of international economies and sovereign risk; dependence on the effectiveness of the company’s patents and other protections for innovative products; and the exposure to litigation, including patent litigation, and/or regulatory actions.

The company undertakes no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. Additional factors that could cause results to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements can be found in the company’s 2019 Annual Report on Form 10-K and the company’s other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) available at the SEC’s Internet site (

# # #

Media Contacts:

Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A.:

Pamela Eisele

(267) 305-3558

Ayn Wisler

(908) 740-5590


Davi Kaur

+32 (0)2 774 1513


Investor Contacts:

Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A.:

Peter Dannenbaum

(908) 740-1037

Courtney Ronaldo

(908) 740-6132

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