Therapeutic vaccines against hepatocellular carcinoma in the immune checkpoint inhibitor era: time for neoantigens?
Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) have been used as immunotherapy for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) with promising but still limited results. Identification of immune elements in the tumor microenvironment of individual HCC patients may help to understand the correlations of responses, as well as to design personalized therapies for non-responder patients. Immune-enhancing strategies, such as vaccination, would complement ICI in those individuals with poorly infiltrated tumors. The prominent role of responses against mutated tumor antigens (neoAgs) in ICI-based therapies suggests that boosting responses against these epitopes may specifically target tumor cells. In this review we summarize clinical vaccination trials carried out in HCC, the available information on potentially immunogenic neoAgs in HCC patients, and the most recent results of neoAg-based vaccines in other tumors. Despite the low/intermediate mutational burden observed in HCC, data obtained from neoAg-based vaccines in other tumors indicate that vaccines directed against these tumor-specific antigens would complement ICI in a subset of HCC patients.