NEW YORK, Feb 11 () - Drugmaker Merck & Co Inc said on Monday that the combination of its cancer immunotherapy Keytruda with Pfizer Inc's Inlyta cut the risk of death nearly in half for patients with the most common form of kidney cancer when compared with treatment with chemotherapy drug Sutent.
Merck said the treatments when used as the initial treatment for advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) reduced the risk of death by about 47 percent in its late-stage trial.
The drugs also improved progression-free survival and had a higher response rate in patients than treatment with chemotherapy.
Keytruda has been Merck's most important growth driver with its domination of the lucrative lung cancer space, and shows no sign of slowing as it produces positive clinical data and adds approvals for different types of cancer.
Approval of the combination to treat patients with RCC would put Merck again in competition with rival Bristol-Myers Squibb Co's Opdivo, which is already being used in combination with another Bristol-Myers drug, Yervoy, to treat kidney cancer.
Bristol-Myers was a pioneer in pushing treatments that help the immune system attack tumors and Opdivo looked poised to be a top immuno-oncology treatment. But Keytruda's sales have surged past Opdivo's, with Merck expected to sell nearly $10 billion of the drug this year, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.