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This article is the author’s final published version in Clinical Cancer Research, Volume 28, Issue 5, March 2022, Pages 915 - 927.

The published version is available at Copyright © Luginbuhl et al.


Purpose: We hypothesize that the addition of the phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor tadalafil to the PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab, is safe and will augment immune-mediated antitumor responses in previously untreated squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC).

Patients and methods: We conducted a two-arm multi-institutional neoadjuvant randomized trial in any-stage resectable HNSCC (NCT03238365). Patients were stratified at randomization by human papillomavirus (HPV) status. Patients in both arms received nivolumab 240 mg intravenously on days 1 and 15 followed by surgery on day 28. Those in the combination therapy arm also received tadalafil 10 mg orally once daily for 4 weeks. Imaging, blood, and tumor were obtained pretreatment and posttreatment for correlative analysis.

Results: Neoadjuvant therapy was well-tolerated with no grade 3 to 5 adverse events and no surgical delays. Twenty-five of 46 (54%) evaluable patients had a pathologic treatment response of ≥20%, including three (7%) patients with a complete pathologic response. Regardless of HPV status, tumor proliferation rate was a negative predictor of response. A strong pretreatment T-cell signature in the HPV-negative cohort was a predictor of response. Tadalafil altered the immune microenvironment, as evidenced by transcriptome data identifying enriched B- and natural killer cell gene sets in the tumor and augmented effector T cells in the periphery.

Conclusions: Preoperative nivolumab ± tadalafil is safe in HNSCC and results in more than 50% of the patients having a pathologic treatment response of at least 20% after 4 weeks of treatment. Pretreatment specimens identified HPV status-dependent signatures that predicted response to immunotherapy while posttreatment specimens showed augmentation of the immune microenvironment with the addition of tadalafil.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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