KEYTRUDA and the immune system

What is immuno-oncology?

Watch this short video for an overview of what exactly immuno-oncology (or cancer immunotherapy) is.

Immuno-oncology, also known as cancer immunotherapy, uses therapies that are designed to help the natural immune system to fight disease.

How does immuno-oncology work?

The immune system is the body’s natural defence against disease. It sends T cells (a type of white blood cell) throughout the body to detect and fight diseases, including cancers like melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer and Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Cancer cells can hide from T cells

One way the immune system controls the activity of T cells is through the PD-1 pathway. PD-1 is a protein in the body that works alongside T cells. However, some cancer cells can hide from T cells and take control of the PD-1 pathway by producing their own protein called PD-L1. This prevents the T cells from attacking cancer cells.

KEYTRUDA helps the T cells to find and destroy cancer

KEYTRUDA is a type of immunotherapy that works by blocking the PD-1 pathway. KEYTRUDA helps the immune system do what it was meant to do: detect and fight cancer cells.

Is KEYTRUDA right for you?

KEYTRUDA is registered in New Zealand for the treatment of advanced melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, Hodgkin Lymphoma and advanced urothelial cancer.


To find out if KEYTRUDA is right for you, your oncologist may need to order biomarker tests to determine if your tumour expresses PD-L1.

The immune system


Questions to ask your Doctor


KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) 50mg powder for infusion
KEYTRUDA is a Prescription Only Medicine Use: KEYTRUDA is used:
  • in the treatment of melanoma which cannot be removed by surgery alone or when it has spread to multiple sites in the body.
  • in the treatment of a kind of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
  • in the treatment of classical Hodgkin Lymphoma (cHL)
  • in the treatment of urothelial carcinoma, including bladder cancer
  • in the treatment of a kind of head and neck cancer called head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)

Side effects: Immune-mediated side effects including inflammation of the lungs, colon, liver, kidneys, pituitary gland, brain, eye, muscles, nervous system, pancreas, and heart, thyroid disorders, type 1 diabetes mellitus. Severe skin reactions including Steven-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. Severe infusion reactions including hypersensitivity and anaphylaxis. Transplant recipients: rejection of a transplanted organ, graft-versus-host-disease (in people with a bone marrow transplant using donor cells). Very common side effects include diarrhea, nausea, itching, rash, joint pain, back pain, feeling tired, cough, patches of discoloured skin, stomach pain, decreased levels of sodium in blood. Tiredness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, shortness of breath, rash, itching, headache, hair loss, and, infections of the upper respiratory tract were reported when given in combination with chemotherapy. You may experience more than one side effect at the same time.

All medicines have risks and benefits. Talk to your doctor to see if KEYTRUDA is right for you. KEYTRUDA is a funded medicine for melanoma patients– restrictions apply. KEYTRUDA is an unfunded medicine for NSCLC, HNSCC, cHL and urothelial carcinoma patients. Ask your health professional the cost of the medicine and any other medical fees that may apply. Use only as directed and if symptoms continue or you have side effects, see your doctor, pharmacist, or health professional.

Based on data sheet prepared 17 July 2018. Marketed by: Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Limited, Newmarket, Auckland. . For additional product information, consult the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI), available on request, phone 0800 500 673 or refer to the Medsafe website

This site is intended for New Zealand residents.

References to support this are available on request.

MSD recommends people always seek the medical advice of their healthcare professional.

Copyright © 2018 Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, New Jersey, USA. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2018 Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Limited. Level 3, 123 Carlton Gore Road, Newmarket, Auckland. All rights reserved.

ONCO-1273154-0000 First Issued November 2017 TAPS NA10076 essence MSD8360

Updated: October 2018