Combination immunotherapy of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: A phase 2 trial

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Objectives: To test the efficacy of a natural cytokine mixture (IRX-2), cyclophosphamide, indomethacin, and zinc to induce immune regression of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the head and neck (HandN) prior to conventional therapy and to characterize the responses. Patients and Design: A phase 2 trial was performed in 15 adults with recently diagnosed, biopsy- confirmed HandN SCC (3 with stage II disease, 6 with stage III disease, and 6 with stage IV disease). The patients were treated with 20 days of perilymphatic injections of IRX-2 (administered subcutaneously at the base of the skull) in combination with contrasuppression consisting of a low-dose infusion of cyclophosphamide (300 mg/m2), and daily oral indomethacin and zinc (StressTabs) in a 21-day cycle before surgery and/or radiotherapy. Tumor dimensions, toxic effects, and disease-free survival were monitored. The tumor sections were histologically examined after surgery, and tumor reduction, fragmentation, and lymphoid infiltration were assessed. Results: All 15 patients responded clinically to the 21-day IRX-2 protocol: 1 with a complete response, 7 with a partial response, and 7 with a minor response. All 15 patients responded pathologically with tumor reduction (mean, 42%) and fragmentation (mean, 50%) in the histological section and increased lymphoid infiltration. The adverse effects of the IRX-2 protocol were negligible except for an allergic skin rash (n = 1) and parotiditis (n = 1). Indomethacin caused gastritis in 1 patient. Reduction of pain and ulceration and bleeding were observed in 8 and 4 patients, respectively. Four of 5 patients with lymphopenia showed increased CD3, CD4, and CD8 cell counts. After surgery (n = 13) and/or radiotherapy (n = 10) and with a mean follow-up of 17 months, 3 patients have had recurrences, 1 patient has died of disease, 1 patient has been re-treated with immunotherapy and has no evidence of disease, and 1 patient is alive with disease. Two patients died of other causes with no evidence of disease. Conclusions: The IRX-2 immunotherapy induced lymphocyte mobilization and infiltration in HandN SCC associated with clinical and histological tumor responses indicative of immune regression in all 15 patients. Minimal toxic effects were observed, and overall survival may have been improved. A phase 3 trial seems warranted.




Barrera, J. L., Verastegui, E., Meneses, A., Zinser, J., De La Garza, J., & Hadden, J. W. (2000). Combination immunotherapy of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: A phase 2 trial. In Archives of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (Vol. 126, pp. 345–351). American Medical Association.

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