Medical Oncology and Hematology Unit, Humanitas Cancer Center, Humanitas Clinical and Research Center - IRCCS, Via Manzoni 56, 20089 Rozzano, Milan, Italy.
Department of Biomedical Sciences, Humanitas University, Via Rita Levi Montalcini, 4, 20090 Pieve Emanuele, Milan, Italy.
Over the past ten years, sorafenib, a multikinase inhibitor, has been the only systemic agent approved for first-line treatment of patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Whereas only recently lenvatinib was shown to be noninferior to sorafenib, in terms of survival, all other agents previously tested failed to prove noninferiority (or superiority) when compared with sorafenib. Similarly, in a second-line setting, most investigational drugs have failed to provide better survival outcomes than placebo. However, in 2016, data from the RESORCE trial, a phase 3 study evaluating regorafenib in HCC patients who experience disease progression after first-line treatment with sorafenib, have shown a 2.8-month median survival benefit over placebo (10.6 versus 7.8 months). Overall, side-effects were in line with the known safety profile of regorafenib. More recently, the survival benefits of a sustained anti-angiogenic inhibition were demonstrated also with cabozantinib in the frame of the phase 3 CELESTIAL trial. As HCC seems to be an attractive target for immunotherapy, a phase 1/2 trial reported promising efficacy signals from nivolumab, and results of a larger phase 3 trial with another checkpoint inhibitor, namely, pembrolizumab, are still pending. After nearly a decade of a certain degree of stagnation, we are now witnessing a period of novel therapeutic advances with multikinase inhibitors and immunotherapy that will likely change the treatment scenario of HCC.