Background: Postsurgical recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is frequent and fatal. Adoptive immunotherapy is active against HCC. We assessed whether postoperative immunotherapy could lower the frequency of recurrence.
Methods: Between 1992 and 1995, we did a randomised trial in which 150 patients who had undergone curative resection for HCC were assigned adoptive immunotherapy (n=76) or no adjuvant treatment (n=74). Autologous lymphocytes activated vitro with recombinant interleukin-2 and antibody to CD3 were infused five times during the first 6 months. Primary endpoints were time to first recurrence and recurrence-free survival and analyses were by intention to treat.
Findings: 76 patients received 370 (97%) of 380 scheduled lymphocyte infusions (mean cell number per patient 7.1x10(10) [SD 2.1]; CD3 and HLA-DR cells 78% ), and none had grade 3 or 4 adverse events. After a median follow-up of 4.4 years (range 0.2-6.7), adoptive immunotherapy decreased the frequency of recurrence by 18% compared with controls (45 [59%] vs 57 [77%]) [corrected] patients. Time to first recurrence in the immunotherapy group was significantly longer than that in the control group (48% [37-59] vs 33% [22-43] at 3 years, 38% [22-54] vs 22% [11-34] at 5 years; p=0.008). The immunotherapy group had significantly longer recurrence-free survival (p=0.01) and disease-specific survival (p=0.04) than the control group. Overall survival did not differ significantly between groups (p=0.09).
Interpretation: Adoptive immunotherapy is a safe, feasible treatment that can lower recurrence and improve recurrence-free outcomes after surgery for HCC.