Durvalumab is a medicinal product currently in development for the treatment of recurrent or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN). SCCHN is a cancer that arises from cells called squamous cells. Squamous cells are found in the outer layer of skin and in the mucous membranes, the moist tissues that line body cavities such as the airways and intestines. SCCHN develops in the mouth, nose and throat. Recurrent or metastatic SCCHN typically exhibits poor patient outcomes, for which more effective therapies are required.
Durvalumab is given by infusion into the vein. Durvalumab works by blocking an immune protein called programmed cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1). Normally, the immune system recognises and kills cancer cells. However, cancer cells can develop PD-L1 on their surface, allowing the cancer cells to avoid recognition by the immune system. By blocking PD-L1, durvalumab allows the immune system to recognise and target the cancer cells in SCCHN. Using durvalumab may improve outcomes in patients with recurrent or metastatic SCCHN who currently have few effective therapies available.
Pembrolizumab is an immunomodulatory medicinal product, meaning that it helps the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells. It is administered by intravenous infusion and is currently licensed in the UK for melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer and urothelial cancer – amongst others. If licensed, pembrolizumab, in addition to chemotherapy, would offer an alternative treatment for those with advanced, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer.