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Dr Nabil Saba Shares His Hope for Future Opdivo, Keytruda Biosimilars


Nabil Saba, MD, a medical oncologist and immunotherapy specialist in the treatment of head and neck cancer at Emory Healthcare and the Winship Cancer Institute, explained how the eventual introduction of biosimilars for Opdivo (nivolumab) and Keytruda (pembrolizuamb) will help patients with head and neck cancer.

This interview was filmed at The American Journal of Managed Care®'s Institute of Value-Based Medicine® event in Atlanta, Georgia.


Several companies are currently working on developing nivolumab and pembrolizumab biosimilars1,2,3. How do you expect these products to help in the fight to end OPSCC (oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma) if they get approved and enter the market?

Saba: Great question. Nivolumab [Opdivo] and pembrolizumab [Keytruda] are both FDA-approved now for treatment of advanced metastatic head and neck cancer, including HPV [human papillomavirus]–related head and neck cancer, [such as OPSCC]. And by the way, this continues to be a big challenge as far as treatment for metastatic disease and when we talk about the necessity for vaccination, we really have to look at the other end of the spectrum when patients come to our clinic with advanced metastatic head and neck cancer and have very few options to get to get therapy.

Thankfully, we're having some improvement in the availablility of treatments for these patients. So, to remind people nivolumab and pembrolizumab are both PD [programmed death]–1 inhibitors; therefore, they are immunotherapeutic drugs. They're not really killing cancer cells by poisoning these cancer cells like chemotherapy or radiation. They are really working with a person's own immune system to fight off these cancers, and HPV-related head and neck cancer does respond fairly well to these agents.

I think the question of biosimilars is a very interesting question overall. And I think that if these biosimilar agents become approved, I think that will open the door for treating more patients, because cost of these currently approved drugs is really prohibitive in many instances for getting them administered to every segment of the population. And I think because biosimilars reduce the cost, basically, they will allow us to focus on reducing the cost and getting the rest of the of the saved cost, essentially, into other functions or into other missions—perhaps treating more patients, perhaps prevention, perhaps vaccination.

When you reduce the cost of these drugs, there's a big advantage, I think, at the society level overall, because you're able to basically funnel the saved money essentially to fund other functions that are very important. So, I look forward to actually having these [biosimilar] drugs down the line and to be approved, and I think we are starting to see this in several segments of health care and oncology.

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