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Phase 1b study of galunisertib and ramucirumab in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Preclinical data suggest that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β signaling interact to stimulate angiogenesis and suppress antitumor immune responses. Thus, combined inhibition of both pathways may offer greater antitumor activity compared with VEGF-targeted antiangiogenic monotherapy against hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).


This is a multicenter, open-label, phase 1b study of galunisertib, an inhibitor of TGF-β receptor 1, and ramucirumab, an anti-VEGF receptor 2 antibody, in patients with advanced HCC aiming to define the maximum tolerated dose (MTD). Secondary objectives included safety, pharmacokinetics (PK), antitumor efficacy, and plasma alpha-fetoprotein and TGF-β kinetics. Dose escalation employed a 3 + 3 design. Patients received galunisertib at 80 mg (cohort 1) or 150 mg (cohort 2) orally twice a day on days 1-14 of a 28-day cycle combined with ramucirumab 8 mg/kg intravenously every 2 weeks.


Eight patients were enrolled: three in cohort 1 and five in cohort 2 (two patients were unevaluable due to rapid disease progression and replaced). No dose-limiting toxicities were observed. Treatment-related adverse events (AEs) of any grade in ≥2 patients included nausea (25%) and vomiting (25%). There was one Grade 3 treatment-related AE, a cerebrovascular accident possibly related to ramucirumab. Galunisertib exposure was dose-proportional and not affected by ramucirumab. The RECIST version 1.1 objective response rate and disease control rate were 0% and 12.5%, respectively.


Combination therapy was safe and tolerable and displayed favorable PK. The MTD was established at galunisertib at 150 mg orally twice a day and ramucirumab 8 mg/kg intravenously every 2 weeks. The results do not support the preclinical hypothesis that blocking TGFβ signaling enhances efficacy of VEGF-targeted therapy; thus further clinical development was halted for the combination of galunisertib and ramucirumab.

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