Emerging drugs to treat squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck

Expert Opin Emerg Drugs. 2010 Sep;15(3):355-73. doi: 10.1517/14728214.2010.497754.


Importance of the field: Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the eighth leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Despite advances in surgery and chemoradiation therapy, there has been little improvement in survival rates over the past 4 decades. Additionally, surgery and chemoradiotherapy have serious side effects. The development of agents with greater efficacy and tolerability is needed.

Areas covered in this review: EGFR is the only proven molecular target for HNSCC therapy. Cetuximab, the sole FDA-approved molecular targeted HNSCC therapy, and other potential targeted therapies are being evaluated in preclinical, clinical and post-marketing studies. Here, we review the emerging targets for biological agents in HNSCC and the rationale for their selection.

What the reader will gain: Key information in the development of new drug targets and the emergence of new biomarkers are discussed. Readers will gain insight regarding the limitations of current therapies, the impact of recently approved targeted therapies and the influence that predictive biomarkers will have on drug development.

Take home message: The head and neck cancer drug market is rapidly evolving. Coordination between drug and biomarker development efforts may soon yield targeted therapies that can achieve the promise of personalized cancer medicine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cetuximab
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Drug Design
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Precision Medicine / methods


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Cetuximab