Oncology Central

Head and neck cancer: is there a future for combination immunotherapy?

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Could you give us a brief overview of the SCORES trial?

The SCORES trial was a two-part study; the first part, to find the tolerable doses of two immune modulators with different MOAs in combination with an anti-PD-L1 antibody termed durvalumab. We’ve known that durvalumab and its class of drugs has activity in several cancers and the idea behind this study was to investigate whether combination immunotherapy working under different complimentary mechanisms would improve that activity. One of the drugs was an inhibitor of a gene termed STAT3 and the other was an inhibitor of a cytokine CXCR2. Both of those have properties that would suggest they would augment activity of checkpoint inhibitors, so the first part of the study designed to  see if they could be combined feasibly, and then the second part of the study was looking at cohorts of head and neck cancer patients to see if there was activity.

Could you tell us about the potential clinical impact of the SCORES trial?

The impact really focused on the combination of the STAT3 inhibitor and durvalumab, especially in patients who had never had checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy previously. What we demonstrated was a high response rate in those patients – much higher than one would expect to see with durvalumab alone. The clinical impact would be that we can potentially improve on immunotherapy significantly by combining different immunotherapy agents, in this case specifically, an anti-PD-L1 antibody and a STAT3 inhibitor.

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Ezra Cohen, MD, is a board-certified oncologist and cancer researcher. He cares for patients with all types of head and neck cancers, including esophageal, thyroid and salivary gland cancers.

Cohen is also an internationally recognized expert on novel cancer therapies and heads the Solid Tumor Therapeutics program at Moores Cancer Center (CA, USA). Much of his work has focused on squamous cell carcinomas and cancers of the thyroid, salivary gland, and HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers. As a physician-scientist, he is especially interested in developing novel therapies and understanding mechanisms of sensitivity or resistance; cancer screening; and using medication and other agents to delay or prevent cancer (chemoprevention). He was recently appointed chair of the National Cancer Institute Head and Neck Cancer Steering Committee, which oversees NCI-funded clinical research in this disease.

Cohen is editor-in-chief of Oral Oncology, the most respected specialty journal in head and neck cancer. A frequent speaker at national and international meetings, he has authored more than 120 peer-reviewed papers and has been the principal investigator of multiple clinical trials of new drugs in all phases of development. Cohen completed a hematology/oncology fellowship at the University of Chicago, where he was named chief fellow. He completed residencies in family medicine at the University of Toronto and in internal medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Cohen earned his medical degree at University of Toronto. He is board certified in internal medicine and medical oncology.

Financial disclosure/ conflict of interest statement

Consulting/advisory role with Eisai, Pfizer, Merck, BMS and Human Longevity. The study was sponsored by AstraZeneca.

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