Sorafenib: a review of its use in advanced hepatocellular carcinoma

Drugs. 2009;69(2):223-40. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200969020-00006.


Sorafenib (Nexavar) is an orally active multikinase inhibitor that is approved in the EU for the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma. Monotherapy with sorafenib prolongs overall survival and delays the time to progression in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma who are not candidates for potentially curative treatment or transarterial chemoembolization. Sorafenib is generally well tolerated in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. Thus, sorafenib represents an important advance in the treatment of advanced hepatocellular carcinoma and is the new standard of care for this condition. The bi-aryl urea sorafenib is an oral multikinase inhibitor that inhibits cell surface tyrosine kinase receptors (e.g. vascular endothelial growth factor receptors and platelet-derived growth factor receptor-beta) and downstream intracellular serine/threonine kinases (e.g. Raf-1, wild-type B-Raf and mutant B-Raf); these kinases are involved in tumour cell proliferation and tumour angiogenesis. In vitro, dose-dependent inhibition of cell proliferation and induction of apoptosis was seen with sorafenib in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells lines. Sorafenib demonstrated dose-dependent antitumour activity in a murine xenograft model of human hepatocellular carcinoma. Steady-state plasma concentrations were reached within 7 days in patients with advanced, refractory solid tumours who received twice-daily oral sorafenib. Metabolism of sorafenib occurs primarily in the liver and is mediated via cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A4 and uridine diphosphate glucuronosyltransferase 1A9. In advanced hepatocellular carcinoma, differences in sorafenib pharmacokinetics between Child-Pugh A and B patients were not considered clinically significant. Sorafenib may be associated with drug interactions. For example, sorafenib exposure was reduced by an average 37% with concomitant administration of the CYP3A4 inducer rifampicin (rifampin); sorafenib concentrations may also be decreased by other CYP3A4 inducers. Monotherapy with oral sorafenib 400 mg twice daily prolonged median overall survival and delayed the median time to progression in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma, according to the results of two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre, phase III trials (the SHARP trial and the Asia-Pacific trial). There was no significant difference between sorafenib and placebo recipients in the median time to symptomatic progression in either trial. The vast majority of patients included in these trials were Child-Pugh A. Combination therapy with sorafenib plus doxorubicin did not delay the median time to progression to a significant extent compared with doxorubicin alone in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma, according to the results of a randomized, double-blind, phase II trial. However, the median durations of overall survival and progression-free survival were significantly longer in patients receiving sorafenib plus doxorubicin than in those receiving doxorubicin alone. Combination therapy with sorafenib plus tegafur/uracil or mitomycin also showed potential in advanced hepatocellular carcinoma, according to the results of noncomparative trials. Monotherapy with oral sorafenib was generally well tolerated in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma, with a manageable adverse effect profile; diarrhoea and hand-foot skin reaction were consistently the most commonly occurring drug-related adverse events in clinical trials. In the SHARP trial, drug-related adverse events of any grade occurring in significantly more sorafenib than placebo recipients included diarrhoea, hand-foot skin reaction, anorexia, alopecia, weight loss, dry skin, abdominal pain, voice changes and 'other' dermatological events. A similar tolerability profile was seen in the Asia-Pacific trial. As expected given the addition of a chemotherapy agent, the adverse event profile in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma who received combination therapy with sorafenib plus doxorubicin differed somewhat to that seen with sorafenib monotherapy in the SHARP trial. In patients receiving sorafenib plus doxorubicin, the most commonly occurring all-cause adverse events (all grades) included fatigue, neutropenia, diarrhoea, elevated bilirubin levels, abdominal pain, hand-foot skin reaction, left ventricular dysfunction, hypertension and febrile neutropenia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Benzenesulfonates / administration & dosage*
  • Benzenesulfonates / adverse effects
  • Benzenesulfonates / pharmacokinetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / physiopathology
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Niacinamide / analogs & derivatives
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacokinetics
  • Pyridines / administration & dosage*
  • Pyridines / adverse effects
  • Pyridines / pharmacokinetics
  • Sorafenib


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzenesulfonates
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyridines
  • Niacinamide
  • Sorafenib