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16th December 2022, Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Limited (MSD) is delighted that Pharmac are now consulting on providing KEYTRUDA, a type of immunotherapy, for eligible patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This means approximately 600 patients with advanced NSCLC could be eligible for funded access to KEYTRUDA.  1,3

MSD New Zealand Director, Ms Vanessa Gascoigne, says, “This is a significant step towards helping to tackle lung cancer which is New Zealand’s leading cause of cancer-related death. It gives new hope for patients and their whānau and means that doctors may have an additional funded treatment choice for those patients whose disease has spread and is now advanced. 2,1

“I would like to congratulate Pharmac on its collaboration, stakeholder engagement and
evidence-based decision making throughout this process. KEYTRUDA is government funded for lung cancer in 59 countries, and we are encouraged that it will potentially be available within New Zealand’s public health system from 1 April 2023. 3,1

“Our thanks and appreciation go to all those patients and stakeholders who have fought hard to improve access to immunotherapies for themselves and others with lung cancer. This is a major advance in the availability of cancer medicines within Aotearoa; and is testament to many years of hard work by Lung Foundation New Zealand and patients and whānau who have raised awareness and addressed stigma around this disease.

“The Pharmac review and recommendations, acknowledged Māori have been disadvantaged in decision making, and there is now a new emphasis on securing equitable health outcomes. Nowhere is this more evident than in lung cancer as Māori rates of death are nearly four times higher than non-Māori.” 4,5

Ms Gascoigne, adds, “We look forward to working collaboratively and with urgency to make sure those most in need get funded access to treatment options. The consultation is open until 4pm, 24 January 2023. Further information and the opportunity to feedback to the consultation is available at We encourage patients, doctors, and all interested stakeholders to have their say.”

KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) is available as a 100 mg/4 mL concentrate for solution for infusion.
The KEYTRUDA Consumer Medicine Information is available at

KEYTRUDA is a Prescription Medicine and may be used in adults:
 After surgery to remove melanoma or renal cell carcinoma to help prevent the cancer from coming back
 Before surgery to treat triple-negative breast cancer and then continued after surgery to help prevent the cancer from coming back
 To treat bladder cancer which has not spread to nearby tissues but is at high-risk of spreading and where bladder removal is not preferred
To treat classical Hodgkin Lymphoma (cHL) that has returned or when other treatments have not worked
To treat certain cancers when the cancer has spread (metastatic) or cannot be removed by surgery (unresectable), such as:

 Melanoma
 non-small cell lung cancer
 urothelial carcinoma
 head and neck squamous cell carcinoma
 renal cell carcinoma
 oesophageal carcinoma
 cervical cancer
 endometrial carcinoma
 triple-negative breast cancer
 a kind of cancer 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)
 colon or rectal cancer that is shown by a laboratory test to be MSI-H or dMMR

KEYTRUDA may be used in children with cHL, MSI-H or dMMR cancer, or after surgery to remove melanoma. 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 with KEYTRUDA alone include diarrhoea, nausea, itching, rash, joint pain, back pain, feeling tired, cough, patches of discoloured skin, stomach pain, decreased levels of sodium in blood and low levels of thyroid hormone.

When KEYTRUDA was given in combination with chemotherapy, hair loss, vomiting, decrease in white-blood cell count, mouth sores, fever, decreased appetite, and swelling of the lining of the digestive system (for example mouth, intestines) were also commonly

When KEYTRUDA was given in combination with axitinib, 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 lenvatinib, high blood pressure, decreased appetite, low levels of thyroid hormone, vomiting, weight loss, headache, constipation, hoarseness, urinary tract infection, stomach-area (abdominal pain), blisters or rash on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, protein in your urine, increased in liver enzyme levels and feeling weak were also commonly reported.

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. (v43)

KEYTRUDA has risks and benefits. Talk to your doctor to see if KEYTRUDA is right for you. If symptoms continue or you have side effects, tell your doctor.

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

References Accessed December 2022
2. Ministry of Health. Cancer. Historical summary 1948 – 2017. Available at Accessed December 20223.
3. MSD Data on file
4. Pharmac Review: Final Report.2022. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
5. Te Aho O Te Kahu Cancer Control Agency. 2021. Lung Cancer Quality Improvement Monitoring Report. Wellington: Cancer Control Agency

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