1 Medical Oncology and Hematology Unit, Humanitas Cancer Center, Humanitas Clinical and Research Center - IRCCS, Rozzano 20089, Milan, Italy, email@example.com.
2 Department of Biomedical Sciences, Humanitas University, Pieve Emanuele 20090, Milan, Italy.
During the last 10 years, the multikinase inhibitor sorafenib has emerged as the only systemic treatment for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). More recently, data from the Phase III REFLECT trial showed that another multikinase inhibitor, namely, lenvatinib, was non-inferior to sorafenib in terms of overall survival (OS). In contrast, with respect to OS, previous randomized Phase III trials have been negative, and several agents tested have failed to prove non-inferiority (or superiority) when compared with sorafenib in a first-line setting. Furthermore, the REFLECT trial demonstrated that lenvatinib, in comparison with sorafenib, significantly increased progression-free survival, time to progression, and objective response rate. Overall, the incidence of grade ≥3 treatment-emergent adverse events (TEAEs) was similar in the two treatment arms of the trial, with a higher incidence of serious TEAEs in the lenvatinib arm. Encouraging efficacy signals had already been reported for immune checkpoint inhibitors in HCC, and different synergisms have been postulated in the frame of interplay between vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 inhibitors and immunotherapy. Given these premises, future approaches are being developed in Phase I trials testing lenvatinib in combination with pembrolizumab or nivolumab. As the treatment landscape of HCC is expanding with novel agents being approved for patients who are intolerant or are progressing on prior sorafenib, we will discuss current challenges pertaining to the optimal sequencing of active agents in first- and second-line setting.