Sorafenib, the unique drug as first-line treatment for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), has opened a window of hope after searching for effective agents to combat HCC for decades. However, the overall outcomes are far from satisfactory. One of the explanations is the genetic heterogeneity of HCC, which has led to identifying predictive biomarkers for primary resistance to sorafenib, and then applying the concept of personalized medicine, or seeking therapeutic strategies such as combining sorafenib with other anticancer agents. Some of the combinations have demonstrated a better effectiveness than sorafenib alone, with good tolerance. The acquired resistance to sorafenib has also drawn attention. As a multikinase inhibitor, sorafenib targets several cellular signaling pathways but simultaneously or sequentially the addiction switches and compensatory pathways are activated. Several mechanisms are involved in the acquired resistance to sorafenib, such as crosstalks involving PI3K/Akt and JAK-STAT pathways, hypoxia-inducible pathways, epithelial-mesenchymal transition, etc. Based on the investigated mechanisms, some other molecular targeted drugs have been applied as second-line treatment for treat HCC after the failure of sorafenib therapy and more are under evaluation in clinical trials. However, the exact mechanisms accounting for sorafenib resistance remains unclear. Further investigation on the crosstalk and relationship of associated pathways will better our understanding of the mechanisms and help to find effective strategies for overcoming sorafenib resistance in HCC.
Keywords: Cellular signaling pathway; Clinical trials; Drug resistance; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Sorafenib.