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This article is the author's final published version in Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer, Volume 11, Issue 8, August 2023, Article number e007141.

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BACKGROUND: The combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab has been approved for the treatment of multiple solid tumors. This was a phase I study investigating definitive radioimmunotherapy (RIT) with nivolumab and ipilimumab for the treatment of locally advanced (LA) squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN).

METHODS: Patients with newly diagnosed, stage IVA-IVB SCCHN eligible for cisplatin-based chemotherapy received nivolumab (3 mg/kg every 2 weeks for a total of 17 doses) and ipilimumab (1 mg/kg every 6 weeks for a total of 6 doses) starting 2 weeks prior to radiotherapy. The primary endpoint was safety of definitive RIT. Secondary endpoints included progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS). Exploratory endpoints included the association of baseline programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression as well as on-treatment changes in immune bias with treatment outcomes.

RESULTS: Twenty-four patients were enrolled. With a median follow-up of 36.1 months, grade 3 or higher treatment-related adverse events were reported in 21 individuals (88%); 5 individuals developed in-field soft tissue ulceration during consolidation immunotherapy, resulting in one fatality. The 3-year PFS and OS rates were 74% (95% CI 58% to 94%) and 96% (95% CI 88% to 100%), respectively. PD-L1 combined positive score (CPS) did not correlate with death or disease progression. Decreases in extracellular vesicle PD-L1 within the concurrent RIT phase were associated with prolonged PFS (p=0.006). Also, interval decreases in circulating interleukin (IL)4, IL9, IL12, and IL17a during concurrent RIT were associated with subsequent ulceration.

CONCLUSIONS: Definitive RIT with nivolumab and ipilimumab has sufficient clinical activity to support further development. Early changes in circulating biomarkers appear able to predict treatment outcomes as well as ensuing in-field soft tissue ulceration.


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