Merck reimagines Keytruda patient support program as it celebrates 5th birthday

Merck's Keytruda patient program has played into the immuno-oncology drug's success. (Merck)

Merck celebrates the fifth anniversary of immunotherapy Keytruda this month. And central to its success has been the patient support program Key+You, now also five years old.

With one of the first immunotherapies on the market in 2014, Merck knew it needed to make sure patients knew what to expect when on Keytruda treatment.

The program provides education, psychosocial support and a 24/7 nursing call center. And while it will undergo a revamp next year with new topic areas such as combination therapies and some yet-to-be-detailed additions, it’s already well proven its value, Nancy Ibach, executive director with Merck's oncology marketing team, said.

RELATED: Merck bumps Keytruda credibility with real doctor appearance in latest 'Tru' patient ads

“Patients don’t know what they don’t know when they’re diagnosed. If we’re able to give them information, and send them information so that it’s in their hands, and continue to update up them throughout their journey, that’s a critical part of the oncology journey," Ibach said.

Key+You is not only educational information about what to expect as a patient. The program also offers things like mindfulness exercises, visualizations, music recommendations and even coloring pages, all of which can help reduce stress or anxiety. The psychosocial tools are vetted through experienced nurses and behavioral scientists, Ibach said.

One of the most important parts of the program is the 24/7 nurse availability. The program takes into account when infusion treatments are occurring. Nurses reach out to patients, or vice versa, to talk about preparing for the infusion, nutrition, needed support and anything else a patient may want to talk about. Ibach noted the phone calls can last 30 minutes to an hour.

RELATED: Move aside, Humira. Merck's Keytruda will capture industry's top sales spot in 2024: report

Five years after Keytruda's debut, with immunotherapy now playing a key role in cancer treatment, Merck knows the requirements around education and support have changed. 

“It’s no longer, ‘Here’s some medication and go home,’ and I don’t think any oncologist feels that way. But as the manufacturer, we feel like we have a big part in this to make sure the patients understand what to expect. It’s critically important to the success of their treatment plan,” Ibach said.

The Key+You program falls into the typical customer relationship management program, with about 5% of patients involved. But “that’s not good enough,” according to Ibach, and she says to expect changes in the next year as the team considers ways to increase participation.