Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors as Therapy to Down-Stage Hepatocellular Carcinoma Prior to Liver Transplantation

Nitin N. Katariya, Blanca C. Lizaola-Mayo, David M. Chascsa, Emmanouil Giorgakis, Bashar A. Aqel, Adyr A. Moss, Pedro Luiz Serrano Uson Junior, Mitesh J. Borad, Amit K. Mathur

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) is the most common liver malignancy and third leading cause of cancer death worldwide. For early-and intermediate-stage disease, liver-directed therapies for locoregional control, or down-staging prior to definitive surgical therapy with hepatic resection or liver transplantation, have been studied broadly, and are the mainstays of current treatment guidelines. As HCC incidence has continued to grow, and with more patients presenting with advanced disease, our current treatment modalities do not suffice, and better therapies are needed to improve disease-specific and overall survival. Until recently, sorafenib was the only systemic therapy utilized, and was associated with dismal results. The advent of immuno-oncology has been of significant interest, and has changed the paradigm of therapy for HCC. Lately, combination regimens including atezolizumab plus bevacizumab; durvalumab plus tremelimumab; and pembrolizumab plus Lenvatinib have shown impressive responses of between 25–35%; this is much higher than responses observed with single agents. Complete responses with checkpoint inhibitor therapy have been observed in advanced-stage HCC patients. These dramatic results have naturally led to several questions. Can or should checkpoint inhibitors, or other immunotherapy combinations, be used routinely before resection or transplant? Is there a synergistic effect of immunotherapy with locoregional therapy, and will pre-treatment increase disease-free survival after surgical intervention? Is it immunologically safe to use these therapies prior to transplantation? Much is still to be learned in terms of the dosing, timing, and overall utility of the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors for pre-transplant care and down-staging. More studies will be needed to understand the management of adverse events while maximizing the therapeutic window of these agents. In this review, we look at the current data on therapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors in advanced HCC, with a focus on pre-transplant treatment prior to liver transplant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2056
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2022


  • Barcelona Clinic Liver Classification (BCLC)
  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC)
  • cirrhosis
  • immune checkpoint inhibitors
  • liver transplant
  • neoadjuvant therapy
  • nivolumab

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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