Saver: sodium valproate for the epigenetic reprogramming of high-risk oral epithelial dysplasia-a phase II randomised control trial study protocol

Caroline McCarthy, Joseph Sacco, Stefano Fedele, Michael Ho, Stephen Porter, Triantafillos Liloglou, Bill Greenhalf, Max Robinson, Bridget Young, Silvia Cicconi, Seema Chauhan, Binyam Tesfaye, Richard Jackson, Frances Sherratt, Richard Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Sodium valproate (VPA) has been associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancer development. The potential protective mechanism of action is believed to be via inhibition of histone deacetylase and subsequent epigenetic reprogramming. SAVER is a phase IIb open-label, randomised control trial of VPA as a chemopreventive agent in patients with high-risk oral epithelial dysplasia (OED). The aim of the trial is to gather preliminary evidence of the clinical and biological effects of VPA upon OED and assess the feasibility and acceptability of such a trial, with a view to inform a future definitive phase III study.

METHODS: One hundred and ten patients with high-risk OED will be recruited from up to 10 secondary care sites in the UK and randomised into either VPA or observation only for 4 months. Women of childbearing potential will be excluded due to the teratogenic properties of VPA. Tissue and blood samples will be collected prior to randomisation and on the last day of the intervention/observation-only period (end of 4 months). Clinical measurement and additional safety bloods will be taken at multiple time points during the trial. The primary outcome will be a composite, surrogate endpoint of change in lesion size, change in grade of dysplasia and change in LOH profile at 8 key microsatellite regions. Feasibility outcomes will include recruitment targets, compliance with the study protocol and adverse effects. A qualitative sub-study will explore patient experience and perception of the trial.

DISCUSSION: The current management options for patients with high-risk OED are limited and mostly include surgical resection and clinical surveillance. However, there remains little evidence whether surgery can effectively lead to a notable reduction in the risk of oral cancer development. Similarly, surveillance is associated with concerns regarding delayed diagnosis of OED progressing to malignancy. The SAVER trial provides an opportunity to investigate the effects of a repurposed, inexpensive and well-tolerated medication as a potential chemopreventive strategy for patients with high-risk OED. The clinical and biological findings of SAVER will inform the appropriateness, design and feasibility of a definitive phase III trial.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: The trial is registered with the European Clinical Trials Database ( Eudra-CT 2018-000197-30 ). ( ). The trial was prospectively registered on 24/04/2018.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Valproic Acid/adverse effects


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