Ezra E. W. Cohen 1 , R. Bryan Bell 2 , Carlo B. Bifulco 2 , Barbara Burtness 3 , Maura L. Gillison 4 , Kevin J. Harrington 5 , Quynh-Thu Le 6 , Nancy Y. Lee 7 , Rom Leidner 2 , Rebecca L. Lewis 8 , Lisa Licitra 9 , Hisham Mehanna 10 , Loren K. Mell 1 , Adam Raben 11 , Andrew G. Sikora 12 , Ravindra Uppaluri 13 , Fernanda Whitworth 14 , Dan P. Zandberg 8 , Robert L. Ferris , 8
15 July 2019
Head and neck cancers, including those of the lip and oral cavity, nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, oropharynx, larynx and nasopharynx represent nearly 700,000 new cases and 380,000 deaths worldwide per annum, and account for over 10,000 annual deaths in the United States alone. Improvement in outcomes are needed for patients with recurrent and or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC). In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the first immunotherapeutic approvals – the anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitors nivolumab and pembrolizumab – for the treatment of patients with recurrent squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC) that is refractory to platinum-based regimens. The European Commission followed in 2017 with approval of nivolumab for treatment of the same patient population, and shortly thereafter with approval of pembrolizumab monotherapy for the treatment of recurrent or metastatic HNSCC in adults whose tumors express PD-L1 with a ≥ 50% tumor proportion score and have progressed on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy. Then in 2019, the FDA granted approval for PD-1 inhibition as first-line treatment for patients with metastatic or unresectable, recurrent HNSCC, approving pembrolizumab in combination with platinum and fluorouracil for all patients with HNSCC and pembrolizumab as a single agent for patients with HNSCC whose tumors express a PD-L1 combined positive score ≥ 1. These approvals marked the first new therapies for these patients since 2006, as well as the first immunotherapeutic approvals in this disease. In light of the introduction of these novel therapies for the treatment of patients with head and neck cancer, The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) formed an expert committee tasked with generating consensus recommendations for emerging immunotherapies, including appropriate patient selection, therapy sequence, response monitoring, adverse event management, and biomarker testing. These consensus guidelines serve as a foundation to assist clinicians’ understanding of the role of immunotherapies in this disease setting, and to standardize utilization across the field for patient benefit. Due to country-specific variances in approvals, availability and regulations regarding the discussed agents, this panel focused solely on FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of patients in the U.S.