From the Journals

Donafenib shows potential as first-line treatment of advanced hepatocellular carcinoma



In patients with unresectable or metastatic hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), donafenib was superior to sorafenib in improving overall survival (OS), according to a head-to-head study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. This novel multikinase inhibitor and deuterated sorafenib derivative also showed improved safety and tolerability, rendering it a potential first-line monotherapy for patients with advanced HCC.

“An improvement in the pharmacotherapy of advanced HCC remains a clinical need,” wrote Feng Bi, MD, of Sichuan University, in Chengdu, China, and colleagues.

Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide, with HCC representing 90% of liver malignancies. HCC most commonly occurs in people with liver disease, particularly in those with chronic hepatitis B and C and although rare, HCC is the ninth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Most patients are diagnosed at the advanced stage with a median survival of 6-8 months. Sorafenib, the standard first-line therapy for advanced HCC, has demonstrated the median OS of 10.7 to 14.7 months. No other monotherapy has shown a significant improvement in OS, compared with sorafenib. Donafenib has shown favorable efficacy and safety in phase 1 studies.

This phase 2-3 trial evaluated the efficacy and safety of first-line donafenib, compared with sorafenib, in 668 Chinese patients with advanced HCC. Patients were randomly assigned to receive twice-daily oral donafenib 0.2 g or sorafenib 0.4 g until intolerable toxicity or disease progression. The primary end point was OS, tested for noninferiority and superiority.

Compared with sorafenib, donafenib significantly prolonged OS, 10.3 and 12.1 months, respectively, (hazard ratio, 95% confidence interval, 0.699-0.988; 0.83; P = .0245), and the superiority criteria for OS were met. Donafenib also presented improved safety and tolerability. Common drug-related adverse events, such as hand-foot skin reactions and diarrhea, and drug-related grade 3 or higher adverse events, occurred in fewer patients receiving donafenib than sorafenib, (38% vs. 50%; P = .0018). The authors noted that this lower frequency in adverse events with donafenib “contributed to improved patient adherence and decreased levels of drug interruption and discontinuation.”

Donafenib is a novel, oral, small-molecule, multikinase inhibitor that suppresses tumor cell proliferation and angiogenesis by inhibiting vascular endothelial growth factor receptors and platelet-derived growth factor receptors, and Raf kinases. It is a derivative of sorafenib and in June 2021, it was approved in China as a treatment for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma for patients who have not received systemic treatment. It is not yet available in the United States.

“This pivotal head-to-head comparison study is the first to demonstrate noninferiority and superiority of a monotherapy, donafenib, with statistically significant extension in OS over sorafenib for first-line treatment of advanced HCC,” the authors wrote. “Compared with international trials, patients in this study presented with more severe baseline disease states, further emphasizing the positive response observed with donafenib.”

Another study, published in the same issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, compared tremelimumab and durvalumab as monotherapies and in combination for patients with unresectable HCC, found that use a single priming dose of tremelimumab combined with durvalumab showed the best benefit-risk profile.

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