Multidimensional biomarker predicts disease control in response to immunotherapy in recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous-cell carcinoma.

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Journal of cancer research and clinical oncology


Biomarker; HNSCC; Immune checkpoint inhibitors; PD-1; PD-L1; Pembrolizumab


PURPOSE: Anti-PD-1 therapy provides clinical benefit in 40-50% of patients with relapsed and/or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (RM-HNSCC). Selection of anti- PD-1 therapy is typically based on patient PD-L1 immunohistochemistry (IHC) which has low specificity for predicting disease control. Therefore, there is a critical need for a clinical biomarker that will predict clinical benefit to anti-PD-1 treatment with high specificity.

METHODS: Clinical treatment and outcomes data for 103 RM-HNSCC patients were paired with RNA-sequencing data from formalin-fixed patient samples. Using logistic regression methods, we developed a novel biomarker classifier based on expression patterns in the tumor immune microenvironment to predict disease control with monotherapy PD-1 inhibitors (pembrolizumab and nivolumab). The performance of the biomarker was internally validated using out-of-bag methods.

RESULTS: The biomarker significantly predicted disease control (65% in predicted non-progressors vs. 17% in predicted progressors, p < 0.001) and was significantly correlated with overall survival (OS; p = 0.004). In addition, the biomarker outperformed PD-L1 IHC across numerous metrics including sensitivity (0.79 vs 0.64, respectively; p = 0.005) and specificity (0.70 vs 0.61, respectively; p = 0.009).

CONCLUSION: This novel assay uses tumor immune microenvironment expression data to predict disease control and OS with high sensitivity and specificity in patients with RM-HNSCC treated with anti-PD-1 monotherapy.

Clinical Institute