A phase II multi-institutional clinical trial was conducted to determine overall survival (OS) in patients with recurrent and/or metastatic (R/M) head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) treated with a combination of cetuximab and nivolumab.

Patients and Methods:

Patients with R/M HNSCC were treated with cetuximab 500 mg/m2 i.v. on day 14 as a lead-in followed by cetuximab 500 mg/m2 i.v. and nivolumab 240 mg i.v. on day 1 and day 15 of each 28-day cycle. Expression of p16 and programmed cell death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) in archived tumors were determined. Tumor-tissue–modified human papillomavirus (TTMV) DNA was quantified in plasma.


Ninety-five patients were enrolled, and 88 patients were evaluable for OS with a median follow-up of 15.9 months. Median OS in the 45 patients who had prior therapy for R/M HNSCC (cohort A) was 11.4 months, with a 1 year OS 50% [90% confidence interval (CI), 0.43–0.57]. Median OS in the 43 patients who had no prior therapy (cohort B) was 20.2 months, with a 1-year OS 66% (90% CI, 0.59–0.71). In the combined cohorts, the p16-negative immunostaining was associated with higher response rate (RR; P = 0.02) but did not impact survival while higher PD-L1 combined positive score was associated with higher RR (P = 0.03) and longer OS (log-rank P = 0.04). In the p16-positive patients, lower median (1,230 copies/mL) TTMV DNA counts were associated with higher RR (P = 0.01) and longer OS compared with higher median (log-rank P = 0.05).


The combination of cetuximab and nivolumab is effective in patients with both previously treated and untreated R/M HNSCC and warrants further evaluation.

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