Yesterday the BBC reported was some excellent news about a drug trial for head and neck cancer that was advanced, had recurred or had spread. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50507069
In a trial, pembrolizumab kept head and neck cancers at bay for an average of two years – five times longer than under chemotherapy.
The patients also suffered far fewer side-effects.
What is immunotherapy?
It is a treatment that does not kill cancer cells itself but instead stimulates the body’s immune system to attack them.
Pembrolizumab is already being used to treat a wide range of advanced cancers, including melanoma – a type of skin cancer that spreads easily.
Experts believe the drug has the potential to treat many more.
So who could benefit?
The trick is identifying people with tumours that will respond, says Prof Kevin Harrington, consultant clinical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Founation Trust, who led the study,
A test for the presence of immune marker PD-L1 in the tumour means doctors can work this out.
Prof Harrington says approximately 85% of people with advanced or relapsed head and neck cancer would be eligible for pembrolizumab – around 1,300 patients a year.
What does this mean for patients?
“This study is very exciting”, says Prof Paul Workman, from the Institute of Cancer Research.
“Firstly because it shows that immunotherapy can have dramatic benefits for some patients with head and neck cancer when used as a first-line treatment, and secondly because the researchers have devised a test for picking out who is most likely to benefit.”
The BBC is reporting a paper that was published in The Lancet a year ago………………… but better late than never 🙂
The drug is Keytruda which has hit the headlines recently because it is hugely expensive and the NHS has managed to negotiate a price reduction with the manufacturers. It’s already in use for other cancers The findings are: Based on the observed efficacy and safety, pembrolizumab plus platinum and 5-fluorouracil is an appropriate first-line treatment for recurrent or metastatic HNSCC and pembrolizumab monotherapy is an appropriate first-line treatment for PD-L1-positive recurrent or metastatic HNSCC.
While the drug is available for head and neck patients in Europe already and the FDA licensed its use in the USA in July this year we are lagging behind