Immune-based classification of HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer with implications for biomarker-driven treatment de-intensification

Peter Y. F. Zeng, Matthew J. Cecchini, John W. Barrett, Matthew Shammas-Toma, Loris de Cecco, Mara S. Serafini, Stefano Cavalieri, Lisa Licitra, Frank Hoebers, Ruud H. Brakenhoff, C. René Leemans, Kathrin Scheckenbach, Tito Poli, Xiaowei Wang, Xinyi Liu, Francisco Laxague, Eitan Prisman, Catherine Poh, Pinaki Bose, Joseph C. DortMushfiq H. Shaikh, Sarah E. B. Ryan, Alice Dawson, Mohammed I. Khan, Christopher J. Howlett, William Stecho, Paul Plantinga, Sabrina Daniela da Silva, Michael Hier, Halema Khan, Danielle MacNeil, Adrian Mendez, John Yoo, Kevin Fung, Pencilla Lang, Eric Winquist, David A. Palma, Hedyeh Ziai, Antonio L. Amelio, Shawn S. C. Li, Paul C. Boutros, Joe S. Mymryk, Anthony C. Nichols

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: There is significant interest in treatment de-escalation for human papillomavirus-associated (HPV+) oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) patients given the generally favourable prognosis. However, 15–30% of patients recur after primary treatment, reflecting a need for improved risk-stratification tools. We sought to develop a molecular test to risk stratify HPV+ OPSCC patients. Methods: We created an immune score (UWO3) associated with survival outcomes in six independent cohorts comprising 906 patients, including blinded retrospective and prospective external validations. Two aggressive radiation de-escalation cohorts were used to assess the ability of UWO3 to identify patients who recur. Multivariate Cox models were used to assess the associations between the UWO3 immune class and outcomes. Findings: A three-gene immune score classified patients into three immune classes (immune rich, mixed, or immune desert) and was strongly associated with disease-free survival in six datasets, including large retrospective and prospective datasets. Pooled analysis demonstrated that the immune rich group had superior disease-free survival compared to the immune desert (HR = 9.0, 95% CI: 3.2–25.5, P = 3.6 × 10−5) and mixed (HR = 6.4, 95% CI: 2.2–18.7, P = 0.006) groups after adjusting for age, sex, smoking status, and AJCC8 clinical stage. Finally, UWO3 was able to identify patients from two small treatment de-escalation cohorts who remain disease-free after aggressive de-escalation to 30 Gy radiation. Interpretation: With additional prospective validation, the UWO3 score could enable biomarker-driven clinical decision-making for patients with HPV+ OPSCC based on robust outcome prediction across six independent cohorts. Prospective de-escalation and intensification clinical trials are currently being planned. Funding: CIHR, European Union, and the NIH.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104373
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Biomarkers
  • Cancer immunology
  • De-escalation
  • HPV
  • Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma
  • Transcriptomics

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