Immune checkpoint inhibitors as monotherapy or within a combinatorial strategy in advanced hepatocellular carcinoma

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In advanced-stage hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), systemic treatment represents the standard therapy. Target therapy has marked a new era based on a greater knowledge of molecular disease signaling. Nonetheless, survival outcomes and long-term response remain unsatisfactory, mostly because of the onset of primary or acquired resistance. More recently, results from clinical trials with immune targeting agents, such as the immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs), have shown a promising role for these drugs in the treatment of advanced HCC. In the context of an intrinsic tolerogenic liver environment, since HCC-induced immune tolerance, it is supported by multiple immunosuppressive mechanisms and several clinical trials are now underway to evaluate ICI-based combinations, including their associations with antiangiogenic agents or multikinase kinase inhibitors and multiple ICIs combinations. In this review, we will first discuss the basic principles of hepatic immunogenic tolerance and the evasive mechanism of antitumor immunity in HCC; furthermore we will elucidate the consistent biological rationale for immunotherapy in HCC even in the presence of an intrinsic tolerogenic environment. Subsequently, we will critically report and discuss current literature on ICIs in the treatment of advanced HCC, including a focus on the currently explored combinatorial strategies and their rationales. Finally, we will consider both challenges and future directions in this field.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6302
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Combinatorial immunotherapy strategies
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors
  • Liver tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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