Patients with HPV-unrelated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HPV-unrelated HNSCC) show only modest benefit from treatment with PD-1 inhibitors (PD-1i). Targeting transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) may make PD-1i more effective by inducing T cell responses. In this issue of the JCI, Redman et al. performed a clinical trial in 14 patients with HPV-unrelated HNSCC using bintrafusp alfa, a bifunctional fusion protein that blocks PD-L1 and TGF-β. Primary tumors displayed pathologic responses with 5 of 14 patients having at least a partial response. While no primary tumor or metastatic lymph node demonstrated a complete pathologic response, the findings suggest that concurrent neoadjuvant inhibition of PD-L1 and TGF-β may provide a rational strategy to improve pathologic response and clinical outcome in patients with HPV-unrelated HNSCC.
R. Bryan Bell, Michael Gough, Marka Crittenden, Kristina Young