1 Medical Oncology Unit, Saint-Louis Hospital, Paris, France.
2 Medical Oncology and Hematology Unit, Humanitas Cancer Center, Humanitas Clinical and Research Center IRCCS, Rozzano (Milan), Italy; Department of Biomedical Sciences, Humanitas University, Pieve Emanuele (Milan), Italy. Electronic address: email@example.com.
3 Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
Over the past decade, sorafenib has been the only systemic agent with proven clinical efficacy for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Recently, lenvatinib was shown to be non-inferior to sorafenib, while regorafenib, cabozantinib, and ramucirumab were shown to be superior to placebo in patients failing sorafenib. In addition, trials of immune checkpoint inhibitors reported encouraging efficacy signals. However, apart from alpha-fetoprotein, which is used to select patients for ramucirumab, no biomarkers are available to identify patients that may respond to a specific treatment. Different synergisms have been postulated based on the potential interplay between antiangiogenic drugs and immunotherapy, with several clinical trials currently testing this hypothesis. Indeed, encouraging preliminary results of phase I studies of bevacizumab plus atezolizumab and lenvatinib plus pembrolizumab have led to the design of ongoing phase III trials, including both antiangiogenics and immune checkpoint inhibitors in the front-line setting. Other important phase II studies have tested molecular therapies directed against different novel targets, such as transforming growth factor-beta, MET (hepatocyte growth factor receptor), and fibroblast growth factor receptor 4. These studies integrated translational research with the aim of better defining the biological tumour profile and identifying tumour and blood biomarkers that select patients who may really benefit from a specific molecular therapy. Importantly, good safety profiles make these drugs suitable for future combinations. In this review, we discuss the most recent data on novel combination strategies and targets, as well as looking ahead to the future role of molecular therapies in the treatment of patients with advanced HCC.