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October 22, 2020

The Current Landscape of Immune Checkpoint Blockade in Hepatocellular Carcinoma: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Internal Medicine III, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  • 2Edwin L. Steele Laboratories for Tumor Biology, Department of Radiation Oncology, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Oncol. 2021;7(1):113-123. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.3381

Importance  For more than a decade, sorafenib has been the only systemic treatment option for patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, rapid progress over the past few years led to approval of other angiogenesis inhibitors and several immune checkpoint blockers (ICBs) that have been added to the treatment armamentarium for advanced HCC. Moreover, the recent success of a combination of bevacizumab with atezolizumab signals an important change in the front-line treatment of HCC.

Observations  This review summarizes rapidly emerging clinical data on the promise and challenges of implementing ICBs in HCC and discusses the unmet need of biomarkers to predict response or resistance to therapy. Two strategies to target immunosuppression in tumors are also discussed: one proven (vascular endothelial growth factor pathway inhibition) and one currently under investigation (transforming growth factor-β pathway inhibition). The rationale and preliminary evidence on how their inhibition may reprogram the immunosuppressive milieu and enhance the efficacy of ICBs in HCC are reviewed.

Conclusion and Relevance  The recent successes and failures of angiogenesis inhibitors and ICBs, alone and in combination, have provided important insights into how to implement this novel systemic therapy in HCC and led to new avenues to enhance immunotherapy efficacy in this disease.

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