Dr. Cohen on Immunotherapeutic Advances in Head and Neck Cancer

Ezra Cohen, MD

Ezra Cohen, MD, associate director, Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, discusses immunotherapeutic advances in head and neck cancer.

For patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, there have been many advances in the past few years with immunotherapy. Physicians now have 2 approved immunotherapy agents––nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda)––for the treatment of patients with platinum refractory disease.

Investigational combinations have shown impressive efficacy, notes Cohen. Agents that modulate the tumor microenvironment by modulating myeloid-derived suppressor cells like a STAT3 oligonucleotide or an IDO inhibitor are showing more than double the response rate seen with anti–PD-1 monotherapy, notes Cohen. Additionally, the combination of innate immune activators such as toll-like receptor 9 agonists are showing similar efficacy compared with anti–PD-1 monotherapy.

A recent publication using an HPV vaccine in HPV+ head and neck cancers suggests similar improvements in response rates. These combinations are now being tested in randomized trials in which the response rates and durations of response appear to be very promising, states Cohen.
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