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Biomarkers predict enhanced clinical outcomes with afatinib versus methotrexate in patients with second-line recurrent and/or metastatic head and neck cancer.

  • Author(s): Cohen, EEW;
  • Licitra, LF;
  • Burtness, B;
  • Fayette, J;
  • Gauler, T;
  • Clement, PM;
  • Grau, JJ;
  • Del Campo, JM;
  • Mailliez, A;
  • Haddad, RI;
  • Vermorken, JB;
  • Tahara, M;
  • Guigay, J;
  • Geoffrois, L;
  • Merlano, MC;
  • Dupuis, N;
  • Krämer, N;
  • Cong, XJ;
  • Gibson, N;
  • Solca, F;
  • Ehrnrooth, E;
  • Machiels, J-PH
  • et al.


In the phase III LUX-Head & Neck 1 (LUX-H&N1) trial, second-line afatinib significantly improved progression-free survival (PFS) versus methotrexate in patients with recurrent/metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (R/M HNSCC). Here, we evaluated association of prespecified biomarkers with efficacy outcomes in LUX-H&N1.

Patients and methods

Randomized patients with R/M HNSCC and progression following ≥2 cycles of platinum therapy received afatinib (40 mg/day) or methotrexate (40 mg/m2/week). Tumor/serum samples were collected at study entry for patients who volunteered for inclusion in biomarker analyses. Tumor biomarkers, including p16 (prespecified subgroup; all tumor subsites), EGFR, HER2, HER3, c-MET and PTEN, were assessed using tissue microarray cores and slides; serum protein was evaluated using the VeriStrat® test. Biomarkers were correlated with efficacy outcomes.


Of 483 randomized patients, 326 (67%) were included in the biomarker analyses; baseline characteristics were consistent with the overall study population. Median PFS favored afatinib over methotrexate in patients with p16-negative [2.7 versus 1.6 months; HR 0.70 (95% CI 0.50-0.97)], EGFR-amplified [2.8 versus 1.5 months; HR 0.53 (0.33-0.85)], HER3-low [2.8 versus 1.8 months; HR 0.57 (0.37-0.88)], and PTEN-high [1.6 versus 1.4 months; HR 0.55 (0.29-1.05)] tumors. Afatinib also improved PFS in combined subsets of patients with p16-negative and EGFR-amplified tumors [2.7 versus 1.5 months; HR 0.47 (0.28-0.80)], and patients with p16-negative tumors who were EGFR therapy-naïve [4.0 versus 2.4 months; HR 0.55 (0.31-0.98)]. PFS was improved in afatinib-treated patients who were VeriStrat 'Good' versus 'Poor' [2.7 versus 1.5 months; HR 0.71 (0.49-0.94)], but no treatment interaction was observed. Afatinib improved tumor response versus methotrexate in all subsets analyzed except for those with p16-positive disease (n = 35).


Subgroups of HNSCC patients who may achieve increased benefit from afatinib were identified based on prespecified tumor biomarkers (p16-negative, EGFR-amplified, HER3-low, PTEN-high). Future studies are warranted to validate these findings.

Clinical trial registration


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