PRIME-HCC: phase Ib study of neoadjuvant ipilimumab and nivolumab prior to liver resection for hepatocellular carcinoma

BMC Cancer. 2021 Mar 23;21(1):301. doi: 10.1186/s12885-021-08033-x.


Background: After liver resection (LR), patients with hepatocellular cancer (HCC) are at high risk of recurrence. There are no approved anti-cancer therapies known to affect such risk, highlighting the acute need for novel systemic therapies to control the probability of disease relapse. Immunotherapy is expanding as a novel treatment option for HCC. Emerging data from cohort 4 of the CA209-040 study, which investigated the safety and preliminary efficacy of nivolumab/ipilimumab co-administration in advanced HCC, suggest that the combination can be delivered safely with an acceptable proportion of reversible grade 3-4 toxicities (27.1%) and a low discontinuation rate (2%) in patients with HCC. Here, we describe the design and rationale of PRIME-HCC, a two-part, multi-centre, phase Ib study to assess safety and bioactivity of the nivolumab/ipilimumab combination prior to LR in early-stage HCC.

Methods: The study involves an initial safety run-in phase (Part 1) to allow for preliminary safety characterisation within the first 6 patients enrolled and a subsequent expansion (Part 2). Ipilimumab will be administered once only on Day 1. Nivolumab will be administered on Day 1 and Day 22 (± 3 days) for a total of two 21-day cycles (i.e. 6 weeks of treatment). The primary objective of the study is to determine the safety and tolerability of the nivolumab/ipilimumab combination prior to LR. The secondary objective is to preliminarily characterize the efficacy of the combination prior to LR, including objective response rate (ORR) and pathologic response rates. Additional exploratory objectives include preliminary evidence of long-term disease control and to identify predictive correlates of response to the nivolumab/ipilimumab combination in HCC.

Discussion: The results of this study will help define the positioning of neoadjuvant nivolumab/ipilimumab combination in the perioperative management of HCC, with potential to improve survival outcomes in this patient population.

Trial registration: EudraCT Number: 2018-000987-27 Clinical trial registry & ID: : NCT03682276 .

Keywords: CTLA-4; HCC; Immunotherapy; PD-1; PD-L1.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy*
  • Hepatectomy*
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / administration & dosage*
  • Ipilimumab / administration & dosage
  • Ipilimumab / adverse effects
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy
  • Nivolumab / administration & dosage
  • Nivolumab / adverse effects
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care


  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Ipilimumab
  • Nivolumab

Associated data