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Expert Anticipates Bright Future for Immunotherapy in HNSCC

Angelica Welch
Published: Thursday, Oct 25, 2018

Ezra Cohen, MD

Ezra Cohen, MD

The treatment paradigm of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has evolved rapidly with the introduction of immunotherapy. Currently, the anti–PD-1 agents pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) are approved for patients who have progressed on platinum-based chemotherapy.

, Cohen, professor of medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, University of California, San Diego, associate director for Translational Science, Moores Cancer Center, discussed the future role of immunotherapy in the treatment of patients with HNSCC.

OncLive: What updates can you share regarding immunotherapy in head and neck cancer?

Cohen: For HNSCC, we have certainly seen some incredible advances in the last few years for immunotherapy. What is startling is that things are happening so fast. We now how 2 immunotherapy agents in head and neck cancer—nivolumab and pembrolizumab—which are approved for patients with platinum-refractory disease. 

In the near term, we are going to see the first-line data for the phase III trials. Now, nivolumab and pembrolizumab are approved in platinum-refractory patients, and we are very excited to see what happens to patients who have yet to be exposed to platinum-based therapy, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy. We already have a hint that those studies may be positive.

What results are you looking forward to from the 2018 ESMO Congress?*

I have said, half-jokingly, that it is the year for head and neck cancer. I have never been as excited to attend a conference as I will be for the 2018 ESMO Congress. We know that we are going to see the KEYNOTE-048 data, which are the first-line data for pembrolizumab alone or in combination with chemotherapy versus the standard of care of platinum, 5-fluorouracil, and cetuximab (Erbitux). We already have a hint from a news release that this study, at least in part, is going to be positive. 
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