New Study Shows Survival Benefit With Adjuvant Therapy in Patients With Renal-Cell Kidney Cancer for the First Time

For immediate release
January 27, 2024


Rachel Cagan Facci

ASCO Expert Perspective

“The KEYNOTE-564 study's update, highlighting pembrolizumab's efficacy in the adjuvant setting post-kidney cancer surgery, marks a significant development in treatment protocols. By confirming improvements in both disease-free and overall survival, the study positions pembrolizumab as a standard care option for high-risk patients,” said Mark T. Fleming, MD, ASCO Expert.

Study at-a-Glance


Adjuvant treatment for clear cell renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer


994 patients with clear cell renal cancer at intermediate to high risk of recurrence, including patients within one year of surgery who had a history of metastatic disease but showed no evidence of disease.


Main Takeaway

Pembrolizumab significantly improved overall survival compared to placebo in patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma at increased risk of recurrence post-surgery.


  • According to the authors, 30-50% of patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma could experience a recurrence after curative-intent surgery, often resulting in incurable distant metastases.
  • This is the first phase 3 study to show a survival benefit with adjuvant therapy in kidney cancer in nearly 50 years.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The phase 3 KEYNOTE-564 study has reported that adjuvant pembrolizumab provides a significant improvement in overall survival for patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) at high risk of recurrence after surgery. This study is significant as it represents the first phase 3 study to show improved overall survival with any adjuvant therapy in kidney cancer. The research will be presented at the 2024 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Genitourinary Cancers Symposium, taking place January 25-27 in San Francisco, California.

About the Study

The KEYNOTE-564 study was a randomized, multicenter, double-blind trial designed to evaluate the efficacy of pembrolizumab as an adjuvant therapy in patients with ccRCC. A total of 994 patients were randomized one-to-one to receive either pembrolizumab (n=496) or a placebo (n=498). Patients were age 18 years or older, had ccRCC (with or without sarcomatoid features, which would indicate a highly aggressive form of cancer) that was at intermediate-high or high risk of recurrence, recieved no prior therapy for kidney cancer, and underwent surgery ≤12 weeks before starting the trial.

The primary endpoint of the study was disease-free survival; secondary endpoints included safety and overall survival.

Key Findings

  • Patients had a median follow-up time of approximately 57 months, with the range spanning from 47.9 to 74.5 months. At 48 months, the estimated overall survival rate was 91.2% for the pembrolizumab group versus 86.0% for the placebo group.
  • Patients who received pembrolizumab had a 28% reduction in the risk of their cancer recurring when compared to patients who received the placebo.
  • Patients who received pembrolizumab had a 38% lower risk of death compared to patients in the placebo group.
  • The study showed benefits across various patient subgroups.

The side effects experienced by patients in the KEYNOTE-564 study were predominantly autoimmune in nature, affecting various organs, consistent with what is generally observed with PD-1 inhibitors. Around 18% of the patients discontinued pembrolizumab due to these side effects, but no fatalities were directly linked to the treatment.

“Through this study, we now understand that pembrolizumab is more than just a measure to delay recurrence in kidney cancer; it is a means to significantly improve overall survival for patients,” said lead study author Toni K. Choueiri, MD, Director of the Lank Center for GU Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Considering that many patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma have a high risk of recurrence leading to non-curable distant metastases, this finding is practice changing.”

Next Steps

Building on the success of pembrolizumab in the KEYNOTE-564 study, the researchers are now recruiting patients for a new trial that combines pembrolizumab with the Hypoxia-Inducible Factor-2 (HIF-2) inhibitor belzutifan.

The study was funded by Merck Sharp & Dohme LLC, a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc.

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