An immunotherapy drug has been hailed as a potential “game changer” after being found to greatly improve survival for patients with relapsed head and neck cancer - a disease which is notoriously difficult to treat. Nivolumab became the first treatment to extend survival in a phase III clinical trial for patients with head and neck cancer in whom chemotherapy had failed - and it did so with fewer side-effects than existing therapeutic options. More than double the number of patients taking nivolumab were alive after one year as those treated with chemotherapy, reported the major international trial, the results of which were published online on October 9, 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The open-access NEJM article is titled “Nivolumab for Recurrent Squamous-Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck.” There are currently no other treatment options that improve the survival of patients with cisplatin-resistant relapsed or metastatic head and neck cancers. This group of patients are expected to live less than six months. The trial was led in the UK by Professor Kevin Harrington of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and involved 20 research organizations from around the world. It was funded by Bristol Myers Squibb. Of the 361 patients in the trial, 240 with relapsed or metastatic head and neck cancer were allocated to receive nivolumab and 121 to one of three different chemotherapies. UK patients received the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, which is the only treatment approved for advanced head and neck cancer by NICE. After one year of the study, 36 per cent of patients treated with nivolumab were still alive compared with 17 per cent for the comparator arm. Median survival for patients on nivolumab was 7.5 months, compared with 5.1 months for chemotherapy.
Login Or Register To Read Full Story