Background: Cisplatin-based chemoradiation (CCRT) offers locally advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (LAHNSCC) patients high local control rate, however, relapses are frequent. Our goal was to evaluate if association of valproic acid (VPA), a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor, with CCRT improved response rate (RR) and associated biomarkers.
Methods: This phase II trial included patients with unresectable locally advanced (LA) oropharynx (OP) squamous cell carcinoma. CCRT began after 2 weeks of VPA (P1). Primary goal was RR at 8 weeks after chemoradiation (CRT) VPA (P2). Biomarkers included microRNA (miR) polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-array profiling in plasma compared to healthy controls by two-sample t-test. Distribution of p-values was analysed by beta-uniform mixture. Findings were validated by real-time PCR quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) for selected miRs in plasma and saliva. p16, HDAC2 and RAD23 Homolog B, Nucleotide Excision Repair Protein (HR23B) tumour immunohistochemistry were evaluated.
Results: Given significant toxicities, accrual was interrupted after inclusion of ten LA p16 negative OP patients. All were male, smokers/ex-smokers, aged 41–65 and with previous moderate/high alcohol intake. Nine evaluable patients yielded a RR of 88%. At false discovery rate of 5%, 169 miRs were differentially expressed between patients and controls, including lower expression of tumour suppressors (TSs) such as miR-31, -222, -let-7a/b/e and -145. miR-let-7a/e expression was validated by qPCR using saliva. A HDAC2 H-score above 170 was 90% accurate in predicting 6-month disease-free survival.
Conclusions: VPA and CRT offered high RR; however, with prohibitive toxicities, which led to early trial termination. Patients and controls had a distinct pattern of miR expression, mainly with low levels of TS miRs targeting Tumor protein P53 (TP53). miR-let-7a/e levels were lower in patients compared to controls, which reinforces the aggressive nature of such tumours (NCT01695122).