Biomarkers for response to immunotherapy in hepatobiliary malignancies

Hepatobiliary Pancreat Dis Int. 2022 Aug 8;S1499-3872(22)00188-6. doi: 10.1016/j.hbpd.2022.08.002. Online ahead of print.


Background: The advent of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) has revolutionized the therapeutic options of hepatobiliary malignancies. However, the clinical benefit provided by immunotherapy seems limited to a small subgroup of patients with hepatobiliary malignancies. The identification of reliable predictors of the response to immunotherapy is urgently needed.

Data sources: Literature search was conducted in PubMed for relevant articles published up to May 2022. Information of clinical trials was obtained from

Results: Biomarkers for ICI response of hepatobiliary malignancies remain in the exploration stage and lack compelling evidence. Tumor programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression is the most widely studied biomarker in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and biliary tract cancers (BTCs), but there are conflicting results on its predictive potential. Tumor mutational burden (TMB) is generally low both in HCC and BTCs, and the clinical trials of TMB is rare in hepatobiliary malignancies. Promisingly, mismatch repair deficiency (dMMR)/high microsatellite instability (MSI-H) may be a predictive biomarker of response to anti-PD-1 therapy in BTCs. Furthermore, some emerging biomarkers, such as gut microbiota, show predictive potential in the preliminary studies. Radiomics and liquid-biopsy biomarkers, including circulating tumor cells, circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) and exosomal PD-L1 provide a quick and non-invasive approach for monitoring the ICI response, showing a new promising direction.

Conclusions: Multiple potential biomarkers for predicting ICI response of hepatobiliary malignancies have been explored and tried to apply in clinic. Yet there is no robust evidence to prove their clinical value in predicting immunotherapeutic response for patients with hepatobiliary malignancies. The identification of predictors for response to ICIs is an urgent need and major challenge. Further studies are warranted to validate the role of emerging biomarkers in predicting immunotherapeutic responses.

Keywords: Biliary tract cancers; Biomarker, Immunotherapy; Hepatocellular carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review