The American Society for Clinical Oncology has included the findings of a trial co-led by Peter Mac investigators into a new treatment approach for head and neck cancers in its annual review of major advances against cancer.

The research - Protocol-specified final analysis of the phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 trial of pembrolizumab (pembro) as first-line therapy for recurrent/metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma – was included in the Clinical Cancer Advances 2020: Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

KEYNOTE-048, an international, multicentre clinical trial co-led by Peter Mac's Prof Danny Rischin and Dr Barbara Burtness from the Yale University School of
Medicine in the UK, found that the immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumab, alone or in combination with chemotherapy is more effective in the treatment of recurrent and metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) than the standard of care treatment.

Prof Rischin, who is the Director of Medical Oncology at Peter Mac, says that the findings represented a major, practice changing advance for the treatment of HNSCC.

“The results of the KEYNOTE-048 trial have defined a new treatment paradigm for head and neck cancer, with some patients doing better with immunotherapy rather than the conventional approach of chemotherapy,” says Prof Rischin.

“This is a major advance as it is the first treatment to improve survival in recurrent and metastatic head and neck cancers that we have seen in over a decade.”

Prof Rischin presented at the ASCO annual meeting in May last year, and the final results of the trial were published in the leading medical journal The Lancet in November.

“The inclusion of the KEYNOTE-048 trial in ASCO’s Annual Report reinforces Peter Mac’s position as an internationally-leading organisation in clinical cancer research and development,” says Peter Mac’s Associate Director for Clinical Research, Prof John Seymour.

“We congratulate Prof Rischin and all involved in this study, including those whose cancer was treated right here at Peter Mac and their families, for their participation in this ground-breaking work.”