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Dr. Burtness on Frontline Immunotherapy in Head and Neck Cancer

Barbara Burtness, MD
Published: Thursday, Nov 01, 2018



Barbara Burtness, MD, professor of medicine, Yale Cancer Center, discusses the potential of using immunotherapy for frontline treatment of patients with head and neck cancer.

With the FDA’s approval of pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) for the treatment of patients with head and neck cancer in the second-line setting, it is well known that immunotherapy can be beneficial for certain patients with these rare cancers.

Investigators involved in the KEYNOTE-048 study sought to determine if immunotherapy would prove safe and effective for frontline treatment. Researchers feel this is where it would have the most impact, as many patients with head and neck cancer are not fit enough to move on to second-line therapy, Burtness says. She adds that high PD-L1 expression has been a predictive biomarker of immune response in this tumor type.

Findings from the randomized 3-arm KEYNOTE-048 study were presented by Burtness at the 2018 ESMO Congress. The study sought to answer 2 questions—could pembrolizumab alone have an impact on PD-L1–high patients as a frontline treatment, and would it be beneficial to combine pembrolizumab with chemotherapy? Burtness adds that chemotherapy has proven effective in terms of disease control for symptomatic patients with head and neck cancer.


Barbara Burtness, MD, professor of medicine, Yale Cancer Center, discusses the potential of using immunotherapy for frontline treatment of patients with head and neck cancer.

With the FDA’s approval of pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) for the treatment of patients with head and neck cancer in the second-line setting, it is well known that immunotherapy can be beneficial for certain patients with these rare cancers.

Investigators involved in the KEYNOTE-048 study sought to determine if immunotherapy would prove safe and effective for frontline treatment. Researchers feel this is where it would have the most impact, as many patients with head and neck cancer are not fit enough to move on to second-line therapy, Burtness says. She adds that high PD-L1 expression has been a predictive biomarker of immune response in this tumor type.

Findings from the randomized 3-arm KEYNOTE-048 study were presented by Burtness at the 2018 ESMO Congress. The study sought to answer 2 questions—could pembrolizumab alone have an impact on PD-L1–high patients as a frontline treatment, and would it be beneficial to combine pembrolizumab with chemotherapy? Burtness adds that chemotherapy has proven effective in terms of disease control for symptomatic patients with head and neck cancer.



View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Medical Crossfire®: How Can We Optimize Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancers with Immunotherapeutic Strategies?Oct 31, 20191.5
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