Over the last decade, progress in systemic therapies significantly improved the outcome of primary liver cancer. More recently, precision oncological and immunotherapeutic approaches became the focus of intense scientific and clinical research. Herein, preclinical studies showed promising results with high response rates and improvement of overall survival. However, results of phase III clinical trials revealed that only a subfraction of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients respond to therapy and display only moderate objective response rates. Further, predictive molecular characteristics are largely missing. In consequence, suitable trial design has emerged as a crucial factor for the success of a novel compound. In addition, increasing knowledge from translational studies indicate the importance of targeting the tumor immune environment to overcome resistance to immunotherapy. Thus, combination of different immunotherapies with other treatment modalities including antibodies, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, or local therapies is highly promising. However, the mechanisms of failure to respond to immunotherapy in liver cancer are still not fully understood and the modulation of the immune system and cellular tumor composition is particularly relevant in this context. Altogether, it is increasingly clear that tailoring of immunotherapy and individualized approaches are required to improve efficacy and patient outcome in liver cancer. This review provides an overview of the current knowledge as well as translational considerations to overcome therapy resistance in immunotherapy of primary liver cancer.
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