Pembrolizumab is an immunotherapy that targets a protein called PD-1, found on T cells in the immune system. PD-1 binds to another protein, PD-L1, that exists on certain cells in the body, including some of the cancerous types. This linkage prevents the T-cell from attacking the PD-L1 carrying cell, so that certain cancer cells become “invisible” to attacks by the immune system. What this drug does is block PD-1 and thus make the cancer cells visible again to the immune system, so that it can attack them freely.
Long-term follow-up of patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma has confirmed the advantage of pembrolizumab, with or without chemotherapy, over the regimen consisting of cetuximab and chemotherapy for PD-L1-positive patients. The data come from the KEYNOTE-048 study.
According to Daniel Oliveira Brito, oncologist at the Bahia Ondina Oncology Center, a clinic of the Oncoclínicas Group in Salvador, the treatment of metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma had been going on for about 12 years without news for the first-line scenario: “The combination of platinum chemotherapy (platinum doublet) with fluorouracil plus cetuximab (evaluated by the EXTREME clinical trial) was the standard, showing median overall survival at 10.1 months and response rate of 36%,” Brito said.
The publication of the first results of the KEYNOTE-048 study in 2019 has transformed the standard treatment for metastatic and recurrent disease, according to Fernanda Bohns Pruski Ramos, an oncologist at OC Oncology Center HSL PUCRS, a clinic of the Oncoclínicas Group in Rio Grande do Sul: “This changed the treatment because we observed a benefit in overall survival when we added immunotherapy (in this case, pembrolizumab) to platinum and fluorouracil,” she says.
Go to our website and learn all the details of the KEYNOTE-048 study, presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Virtual Congress in September.