A New Frontier in Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

A Point of View by Dr. Jonathan Cheng, executive director, oncology clinical development, Merck Research Laboratories

Merck careersDr. Cheng has been treating head and neck cancer patients for many years. This is his personal perspective.

I have treated patients with head and neck cancers for many years, so I have seen, up close, the difficult experience of living with head and neck cancer. Cancer is a trying situation for all patients and their loved ones, but head and neck patients face cancer in a unique and difficult way, with their disease and tumors often visible to the world.

I have been involved in research for years as part of scientists’ decades-long endeavor to bring forward meaningful advances for patients with head and neck cancer. In 2016, it is estimated that over 61,000 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States. Until recently, such advances have been hard to come by and my patients and I have struggled with the limited treatment options available. But, the news has not been all bad, and there have been some improvements in survival rates over the years. There is still a long road ahead, as each modest improvement only underscores the significant need for new treatment options.

We are now seeing a new and encouraging future ahead. We have begun to leverage our understanding of biology to develop more precise therapies. At Merck, we are focused on immuno-oncology research, which studies the role of the immune system in detecting and fighting cancer. We are studying the potential of this approach, which aims to harness and restore the body’s ability to detect and fight cancer cells, in a number of cancers, including head and neck cancer. Immuno-oncology has already significantly changed the way certain cancers are treated, including melanoma and lung cancer, and we are excited about its potential in the treatment of head and neck cancer.

Change is coming to the head and neck cancer landscape – and it is thrilling to be a part of it. To be able to see how our research and efforts at Merck are having a direct impact on how physicians approach the treatment of their patients and what patients may expect from their treatment is what motivates us to work harder.