SU2C-Supported Research Leads to FDA approval of Pembrolizumab as First-Line Treatment for Advanced Colorectal Cancer - Stand Up To Cancer


Posted December 17, 2020

SU2C-Supported Research Leads to FDA approval of Pembrolizumab as First-Line Treatment for Advanced Colorectal Cancer

This is the 9th FDA drug approval supported by Stand Up To Cancer research.

New York – December 16, 2020 — The FDA recently approved the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab as a first-line treatment for patients with certain types of advanced colorectal cancer. This is the 9th FDA approval supported by Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) research. Patients newly diagnosed with advanced or metastatic microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) colorectal cancer previously would have been prescribed pembrolizumab only after exhausting standard chemotherapy treatments.

The FDA approved pembrolizumab, also known under the brand name Keytruda, as first-line treatment for metastatic MSI-H—dMMR colorectal cancer based on early results from a phase III clinical trial, which was partially funded by an SU2C grant.

“When compared to traditional treatment, pembrolizumab was superior with fewer side effects for MSI-H—dMMR colorectal patients,” said Luis A. Diaz, MD, Head of the Division of Solid Tumor Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and leader of the SU2C Colorectal Cancer Dream Team, which conducted the research. “There are other solid tumor cancers in adults and children that have these same MSI-H—dMMR defects, so our research may also have ramifications for other cancer types.”

Around 4-5% of metastatic cancer tumors have MSI-H—dMMR biomarkers, which result from the inability of cells to repair mistakes made during the cellular division process and can lead to more tumor development.

The study involved 307 MSI-H—dMMR colorectal cancer patients in 23 countries who were treated either with pembrolizumab or standard chemotherapy. Pembrolizumab targets and blocks a protein called PD-1 that can prevent immune cells called T cells from eliminating cancer cells effectively.

Dr. Diaz and his team found that MSI-H—dMMR colorectal cancer patients treated with pembrolizumab didn’t see their cancer spread for a median 16.5 months, compared to patients treated with standard chemotherapy who saw their tumors grow after a median 8.2 months. Patients receiving standard chemotherapy also had more severe side effects than patients receiving pembrolizumab. The complete study results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on December 2, 2020.

“The Stand Up To Cancer Colorectal Cancer Dream Team has made a significant contribution to an improved treatment option for MSI-H—dMMR colorectal patients,” said Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, chair of Stand Up To Cancer’s Scientific Advisory Committee and an Institute professor at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “This is a great example of how Stand Up To Cancer’s collaborative research model has a direct impact on cancer patients’ lives.”

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among American men and women combined and nearly 148,000 Americans will receive a new diagnosis of colon or rectal cancer in 2020. While colorectal cancer death rates have declined significantly due to increased screening and improvements in treatment, about 1 in 3 adults age 50 or older do not get the recommended screening. New cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at a growing rate among young and middle-aged adults in the US, with the number of cases of colorectal cancer in people under 50 expected to almost double by 2030.

As colorectal cancer continues to disproportionately impact people of color
(Black people have the highest rates of colorectal cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the US), improvements in screening and new precision and targeted treatments must reach all patients. SU2C announced a Health Equity Initiative in January 2020. The initiative requires all future teams seeking Stand Up To Cancer funding to address recruitment and retention of patients from different ethnic and racial groups and underserved communities to improve diverse participation in cancer clinical trials. The initiative also includes collaborations with advocacy groups and industry and corporate supporters to move research and public awareness efforts forward.

The SU2C Colorectal Cancer Dream Team is administered by Stand Up To Cancer’s scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research.


Stand Up To Cancer
Mirabai Vogt-James

About Stand Up To Cancer

Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C, a division of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, was established in 2008 by media and entertainment leaders who utilize these communities’ resources to engage the public in supporting a new, collaborative model of cancer research, to increase awareness about cancer prevention, and to highlight progress being made in the fight against the disease. As of June 2020, more than 1,600 scientists representing more than 180 institutions are involved in SU2C-funded research projects.

Under the direction of our Scientific Advisory Committee, led by Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., SU2C operates rigorous competitive review processes to identify the best research proposals to recommend for funding, oversee grants administration, and ensure collaboration across research programs.

Current members of the SU2C Council of Founders and Advisors (CFA) include Katie Couric, Sherry Lansing, Kathleen Lobb, Lisa Paulsen, Rusty Robertson, Sue Schwartz, Pamela Oas Williams, and Ellen Ziffren. The late Laura Ziskin and the late Noreen Fraser are also co-founders. Sung Poblete, Ph.D., R.N., serves as SU2C’s CEO. For more information, visit

About the American Association for Cancer Research

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world’s first and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR membership includes 47,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and patient advocates residing in 127 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 30 conferences and educational workshops—the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting, with more than 100,000 attendees for the 2020 virtual meetings and more than 22,500 attendees for past in-person meetings. In addition, the AACR publishes nine prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients, and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration, and scientific oversight of team science and individual investigator grants in cancer research that have the potential for near-term patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and other policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer. For more information about the AACR, visit




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