A Keck Medicine of USC investigator presented interim results of a study evaluating a novel treatment for advanced liver cancer on May 30 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago.

Anthony B. El-Khoueiry, MD, of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, is the lead author of an international study that showed that liver cancer tumors responded in an unprecedented manner to the immunotherapy drug nivolumab, which is marketed as Opdivo. The study was conducted at select centers worldwide.

Eight of 42 evaluable patients responded to nivolumab with tumor reduction beyond 30 percent, and two showed complete responses, El-Khoueiry reported. Furthermore, another 48% of patients had stabilization of their cancer. Both the responses and the arrest in tumor growth were durable and lasted for several months and beyond one year in several patients.

About 70% of the patients in the study had failed treatment with sorafenib, the standard of care. There is no current standard treatment options after failure of sorafenib.

The overall survival rate at 12 months was 62 percent with nivolumab, compared to about 30 percent in patients who do not get any treatment in this setting, El-Khoueiry said.

“While we have to verify this early signal in larger studies, this is one of the first signs that immunotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors will have a role in the treatment of liver cancer,” he said. “These results promise to open the door for a novel approach in treating this challenging cancer for which there is only one approved drug with a survival of less than 11 months”.

This study was funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb.