‘Breakthrough’ drug trial provides longest ever survival time in liver cancer patients

GENEVA, Switzerland — A new liver cancer treatment consisting of two drugs may soon be on the scene to help countless patients. The results of a recent trial suggests it can extend the lives of those living with inoperable liver cancer much longer than the current standard treatment.

The new treatment approach, a combination of the drugs atezolizumab and bevacizumab, produces an average survival rate of 19.2 months. In comparison, liver cancer patients who only take sorafenib (the current standard liver cancer treatment) have a median survival rate of 13.4 months.

At the 18-month mark, the survival percentage among patients taking atezo+bev is 52 percent. The survival rate among those given sorafenib is 40 percent.

“These are highly significant findings for the treatment of patients with HCC. Many thousands of patients worldwide could benefit from this treatment and it can be considered a major breakthrough – the first improvement in treatment for these types of cases in 13 years and a treatment long awaited by doctors,” comments UCLA’s Professor Richard Finn, the study’s lead author, in a media release.

A total of 501 patients participated in this research. All of those individuals had been diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer, which is unfortunately the most common form of liver cancer, and had not yet received any systemic therapies.

How does the new treatment fight liver cancer?

Atezolizumab is an immune checkpoint inhibitor drug, which essentially means it aids one’s immune system in finding and killing cancer cells. Bevacizumab, meanwhile, is a targeted monoclonal antibody therapy that “starves” tumors by cutting off their blood supply.

These newest findings are actually a continuation of the drug trial’s initial post-12 month report in the New England Journal of Medicine. At that time, researchers discovered patients given atezo+bev showed a 67.2 percent survival rate, compared to 54.6 percent with sorafenib. This newest release includes an additional 12 months of follow-up time.

“IMbrave150 (the drug trial) showed consistent clinically meaningful treatment benefit and safety with an additional 12 months of follow-up. The combination provides the longest survival seen in a front-line Phase III study in advanced HCC, confirming atezo+bev as a standard of care for previously untreated, unresectable HCC,” Prof. Finn explains.

“We now need to understand what is next in front-line liver cancer and how will we build on this data to further improve outcomes beyond the 19.2 months we described. Additionally, we need to evaluate the efficacy for this regimen in earlier stages of HCC,” he concludes.

This research was presented at the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) Liver Cancer Summit 2021.