Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a prevalent disease with a progression that is modulated by the immune system. Systemic therapy is used in the advanced stage and until 2017 consisted only of antiangiogenic tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). Immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors has shown strong anti-tumour activity in a subset of patients and the combination of the anti-PDL1 antibody atezolizumab and the VEGF-neutralizing antibody bevacizumab has or will soon become the standard of care as a first-line therapy for HCC, whereas the anti-PD1 agents nivolumab and pembrolizumab are used after TKIs in several regions. Other immune strategies such as adoptive T-cell transfer, vaccination or virotherapy have not yet demonstrated consistent clinical activity. Major unmet challenges in HCC checkpoint immunotherapy are the discovery and validation of predictive biomarkers, advancing treatment to earlier stages of the disease, applying the treatment to patients with liver dysfunction and the discovery of more effective combinatorial or sequential approaches. Combinations with other systemic or local treatments are perceived as the most promising opportunities in HCC and some are already under evaluation in large-scale clinical trials. This Review provides up-to-date information on the best use of currently available immunotherapies in HCC and the therapeutic strategies under development.
Immunotherapeutic interventions might be effective tools for the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma. This Review provides up-to-date information on the clinical use of currently available immunotherapies in hepatocellular carcinoma, the mechanisms of response and resistance, and the therapeutic strategies under development.
Multiple immune mechanisms are important in the development and progression of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and correlate with prognosis.
Checkpoint inhibitors targeting PD1 and PDL1 and CTLA4 are active, tolerable and clinically beneficial against advanced HCC.
At present, the best available first-line treatment for advanced HCC is a combination of PDL1 blockade with atezolizumab and VEGF blockade with bevacizumab.
There is as yet an almost complete lack of suitable biomarkers to guide the development of checkpoint inhibitors and their combinations in HCC.
Immunotherapy is likely to synergize with local and locoregional interventions in earlier stages of HCC.
Other promising forms of immunotherapy for HCC such as additional checkpoint inhibitors, adoptive cell transfer, vaccination and virotherapy are being actively pursued.