Clinical trial data of Anti–PD-1/PD-L1 therapy for recurrent or metastatic nasopharyngeal Carcinoma: A review

Douglas R. Adkins, Robert I. Haddad

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Importance: Anti–programmed cell death receptor-1 (PD-1) therapy is standard of care for incurable recurrent or metastatic non-nasopharyngeal head and neck cancer. In contrast, there are no regulatory agency–approved anti–PD-1 agents indicated for the treatment of recurrent or metastatic nasopharyngeal carcinomas (RM-NPC) in the Western hemisphere, and no standard treatment option exists beyond first-line chemotherapy for RM-NPC. The pace of development of novel systemic therapy regimens for RM-NPC has been slow compared to many other advanced tumor types, leaving an unmet clinical need for these patients with a poor prognosis. Observations: Recent clinical trials have documented the clinical activity of anti–PD-1 therapy in RM-NPC. In particular, randomized clinical trials in the first-line setting have demonstrated significant improvements in progression-free survival (PFS) with the addition of anti–PD-1 therapy to standard chemotherapy. Whether the observed PFS benefits require combination chemoimmunotherapy or can be achieved with chemotherapy followed by crossover to immunotherapy upon progression remains unknown. Ongoing clinical trials are exploring novel anti–PD-1 therapy–based combinations, which may further solidify a role for these agents in RM-NPC. Conclusions and Relevance: Among patients with RM-NPC, anti–PD-1 therapy added to first-line standard-of-care gemcitabine plus cisplatin provides significantly better efficacy outcomes compared to chemotherapy alone, and anti–PD-1 monotherapy appears to have comparable clinical activity and better tolerability than chemotherapy in previously treated disease. Thus, anti–PD-1 therapy is poised to advance standard of care for the treatment of RM-NPC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102428
JournalCancer Treatment Reviews
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Immune checkpoint inhibitor
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • Programmed cell death receptor-1


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