‘Keytruda’ has been making headlines across the world in recent years and has been hailed by many as an effective, new cancer-fighting drug.

Also known by its generic name, ‘Pembrolizumab’, Keytruda is an immunotherapy drug treatment which stimulates the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. It was approved for use in England in September 2015 by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Originally developed to treat melanoma skin cancer, it has shown encouraging results in cancers that are difficult to treat, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Clinical trials are now underway and Keytruda is being tested as a potential treatment for mesothelioma.  The drug has been effective at blocking the PD-L1 protein found in cancer cells that suppresses the immune system. To put it simply, as one mesothelioma patient taking part in the UK’s Keytruda clinical trial, says: “a (cancerous) tumour has a switch that turns off the immune system but this drug goes in and switches it back on.”

However, it’s important to point out that Keytruda is not a miracle cure for mesothelioma sufferers. The purpose of the treatment is to limit tumour growth and increase remaining life expectancy.  

Keytruda and compensation

In some situations, it may be possible for mesothelioma sufferers who’ve been exposed to asbestos due to the negligence of their former employers to access medical treatment through the compensation process.

This would involve the employers’ insurers covering the cost of the treatment – even if the exposure to asbestos was many years’ ago. If a compensation claim was successful, then it may be possible to include the cost of new drugs, such as Keytruda.

However, like all medications, Keytruda is not suitable for everyone. Each patient needs to be assessed by qualified, experienced medical practitioners to ensure the treatment is appropriate for them.

If it’s decided that Keytruda is a viable clinical option, a specialist asbestos disease solicitor can then pursue the cost of treatment as part of the compensation claim process by securing interim payments.

This can be hugely beneficial, helping mesothelioma patients gain access to potentially effective, ground-breaking treatment that would in other circumstances be beyond them.

Note of caution

It’s vital to remember that Keytruda is an experimental therapy and clinical trials are still only in the very early stages to determine if it is a potentially effective treatment for mesothelioma.

Research into pioneering drugs is set to continue and in the coming few years, it is likely that we will see some major new developments in the treatment of mesothelioma, with other medications, not just Keytruda becoming available.

The challenge for mesothelioma patients and the solicitors representing them is that new drugs have the potential to significantly increase the cost of compensation claims. This may result in defendants’ insurers arguing about the effectiveness of such treatments and questioning whether the costs of the drugs are reasonable recoverable.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that ground-breaking treatments such as Keytruda have given many mesothelioma patients and their families hope – and that is something that in itself is priceless.