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Burtness Breaks Down Pembrolizumab Data in HNSCC

Angelica Welch
Published: Monday, Nov 26, 2018

Barbara Burtness, MD

Barbara Burtness, MD
As investigators attempt to move immunotherapy earlier in the management of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), questions are arising regarding who should receive single-agent therapy, a chemoimmunotherapy approach, or the current standard of care.

lead study author Barbara A. Burtness, MD, professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology); Disease Aligned Research Team Leader, Head and Neck Cancers Program; co-director, Developmental Therapeutics Research Program; of Yale Cancer Center, explained these data, and the impact they could have on the treatment of patients with HNSCC.

OncLive: Could you provide some background on this study?

Burtness: We know that immunotherapy has activity in head and neck cancer, and both pembrolizumab and nivolumab have been approved because of survival advantages in the second-line setting. The question then became, “Could you use immunotherapy in the first-line setting?” This is partly because that is where it would have the biggest impact on survival, and partly because many patients with HNSCC are quite sick and are not often fit for second-line therapy. 
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