Pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy medicine, improved survival rates for head and neck cancer patients with intermediate risk, according to a clinical trial conducted by Trisha Wide-Draper, M.D. at the University of Cincinnati (UC).
Clinical Cancer Research, a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, published the findings.
Pembrolizumab is a drug that is sold under the brand name Pembrolizumab. It appears to be a useful treatment for around 20% of individuals with head and neck cancer, according to preliminary data. Pembrolizumab is more lasting and effective for cancer patients than chemotherapy, according to the study.
The UC-led trial aimed to establish evidence that pembrolizumab could be successful as an initial treatment for reducing the rate of head and neck cancer recurrence, which happens between 30% and 50% of the time. According to Wise-Drape, Pembrolizumab is being added to prevent and reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. The 92 patients who joined in the study were given one dosage of pembrolizumab before and after surgery, and their risk status was assessed and they were divided into intermediate- and high-risk groups afterward. If some of the tumor is left behind after surgery or is not contained in a lymph node, the patient is termed high risk.
After surgery, all patients received the appropriate standard of care (radiation alone for intermediate-risk patients or radiation + chemotherapy for high-risk patients), as well as six more doses of Pembrolizumab.
The researchers found that:
- The tumor begins to die at a faster rate in nearly half of patients than when the drug was used to treat metastatic or recurrent head and neck cancer;
- Less than 70% of patients in the intermediate group who were treated with radiation alone after surgery were typically disease-free one year after treatment;
- More than 95 percent of patients in the trial reported one-year disease-free survival when the drug was used to treat metastatic or recurrent head and neck cancer.
- One-year disease-free survival was observed in 100 percent of patients in whom the medicine began to destroy the tumor before surgery.
Patients who have surgery, Pembrolizumab, chemotherapy, or radiation who do not respond well to treatment may benefit from a better predictor of who will respond well to treatment. The researchers are currently exploring why some patients respond to treatment while others do not, as well as how to develop new and better-targeted treatments, according to the researchers.
Meanwhile, Merck, the maker of pembrolizumab, is conducting a randomized clinical trial to compare all of the findings, indicating that a Phase III trial is warranted.