Chemotherapy Plus Immunotherapy Slows Tumor Growth in Mice

Combination therapy may improve treatment strategies for hepatocellular carcinoma.

Combination chemotherapy and immunotherapy significantly slowed tumor growth in mice with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), according to a study published in the Journal of Hepatology.

Although HCC is the most common form of liver cancer, treatment options are limited with only mildly improvement in survival rates. Furthermore, patients are often diagnosed in the late stages when the cancer is untreatable.

“The current drug approved by the FDA to treat hepatocellular carcinoma only increases the average survival of patients by about 3 months,” said investigator Kevin Staveley-O’Carroll, MD, PhD. “While any extension of life is valuable, our research team is developing a new therapeutic strategy that might extend and improve the quality of life of these patients.”

Immunotherapy shows promise in several cancers, such as melanoma and lung cancer, but little research has been done on the effects of immunotherapy and chemotherapy combined.

For the study, investigators treated 1 group of mice with the chemotherapy drug sunitinib, and the other with the immunotherapy antibody anti-PD-1.

Over a 4-week period, the tumors in mice treated with sunitinib grew 25 times larger, whereas the tumors in mice treated with immunotherapy grew at a slower rate and were 15 times larger.

The results of the third group administered a combination chemotherapy and immunotherapy had even slower growth, at a size that was 11 times larger.

“Our results show that a combined chemo-immunotherapeutic approach can slow tumor growth in mice more effectively than either individual treatment,” investigator Guangfu Li, PhD, DVM. “This innovation combination promotes an anti-tumor immune response and better suppresses growth of cancer. Our findings support the need for a clinical trial to test whether this could become a cost-effective treatment that could help improve the lives of patient with liver cancer.”