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Source: MIL-OSI Submissions
Source: Merck Sharp & Dohme New Zealand Limited (MSD)

1 October 2021, Merck Sharp & Dohme New Zealand Limited (MSD) says it is now five years since the funding of immunotherapy medicines for advanced melanoma (stage four) that had spread throughout the body and this is a milestone for patients. 1

Mr Paul Smith, MSD New Zealand Director, says “In 2016, advanced melanoma patients only had funded access to a 26-year-old chemotherapy treatment but immunotherapy medicines such as KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) were, and still are, changing the face of advanced melanoma cancer treatment worldwide. 2,3

“Over 1,500 advanced melanoma patients have accessed funded immunotherapies over the past five years. We would like to see this funding extended to the adjuvant treatment of patients with stage three melanoma (melanoma removed surgically and with cancer found in the lymph nodes) as these patients have a 44-74 percent chance of the cancer returning within five years.” 4,5

Melanoma New Zealand CEO Andrea Newland, says, “The funding of immunotherapies changed the treatment landscape for patients with advanced melanoma. Funding has given many melanoma patients hope.

“That said, there are many more patients who could benefit from funded immunotherapy – and so we would like to see funding extended to immunotherapy drugs earlier than stage four. New Zealand has the highest melanoma rates in the world and so preventing, detecting and treating melanoma early need to be absolute priorities.” 6

Mr Paul Smith, MSD New Zealand Director, says “MSD has made 10 KEYTRUDA applications to PHARMAC across six types of cancers, but we only have one funding for the treatment of advanced melanoma.  We hope this changes soon, with additional funding, as all patients deserve the same opportunity.” 5

About MSD
For 130 years, MSD 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. MSD is a trade name of Merck & Co., Inc., with headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. We demonstrate our commitment to patients and population health by increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, MSD 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 @FightCancerNZ.
KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) is available as a 100 mg/4 mL concentrate for solution for infusion.

Additional product information and the KEYTRUDA Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) is available at

KEYTRUDA is a Prescription Medicine and is used to treat:
 a kind of skin cancer in adults called melanoma
 a kind of lung cancer in adults called non-small cell lung cancer
 a kind of cancer in adults and children called classical Hodgkin Lymphoma
 a kind of cancer in adults called urothelial carcinoma, including bladder cancer
 a kind of head and neck cancer in adults called head and neck squamous cell carcinoma
 a kind of cancer in adults and children that can occur in any part of the body and is shown by a laboratory test to be microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR)
 a kind of cancer in adults called renal cell carcinoma (RCC)
 a kind of cancer in adults called oesophageal carcinoma

It is not known if KEYTRUDA is safe and effective in children with MSI-H or dMMR cancer of the brain or spinal cord (central nervous system cancers).

KEYTRUDA can cause harm or death to unborn babies. Talk to your doctor if you are a woman who could become pregnant and use effective contraception while you are being treated with KEYTRUDA and for at least 4 months after the last dose of KEYTRUDA. Do
not breastfeed while taking KEYTRUDA.

Serious immune-mediated side effects have occurred affecting the lungs, intestines, liver, kidneys, hormone glands, blood sugar levels, skin, other organs and in transplant recipients. Some of these side effects can sometimes become life-threatening and can lead to death. These side effects may happen anytime during treatment or even after your treatment has ended and you may experience more than one side effect at the same time. Serious infusion reactions have also occurred. Very common side effects include diarrhoea, nausea, itching, rash, joint pain, back pain, feeling tired, cough, patches of discoloured skin, stomach pain, decreased levels of sodium in blood. Hair loss, vomiting, decrease in white-blood cell count, mouth sores and swelling of the lining of the digestive system (for example mouth, intestines) were also commonly reported when KEYTRUDA was given in combination with chemotherapy. High blood pressure, fatigue, low levels of thyroid hormone, decreased appetite, blisters or rash on palms of your
hands and soles of your feet, increase in liver enzyme levels, hoarseness, and constipation were also commonly reported when KEYTRUDA was given in combination with axitinib in RCC. The most common side effects when KEYTRUDA is given alone to children include fever, vomiting, headache, stomach pain, decrease in number of red blood cells, cough, and constipation. (v36) 

KEYTRUDA has risks and benefits. Talk to your doctor to see if KEYTRUDA is right for you. Use only as directed and if symptoms continue or you have side effects, see your doctor, pharmacist, or health professional.

KEYTRUDA is only funded for the treatment of melanoma which has spread and cannot be removed by surgery. KEYTRUDA is unfunded for the treatment of all other cancers listed above. Ask your health professional about the cost of the medicine and any other medical fees that may apply.

Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Limited. Level 3, 123 Carlton Gore Road, Newmarket, Auckland.

1. PHARMAC media release
2. Dacarbazine Medsafe Data Sheet
3. Steininger et al. Systemic Therapy of Metastatic Melanoma: On the Road to Cure. Cancers 2021, 13, 1430.
4. MSD Data on file
5. Mohr P, Kiecker F, Soriano V, et al.: Adjuvant therapy versus watch-and-wait post-surgery for stage III melanoma: a multicountry retrospective chart review. Melanoma Manag. 2019;6(4):MMT33. doi:10.2217/mmt-2019-0015 Supplementary Appendix
6. New Zealand Ministry of Health website Last accessed 22 September 2021