BackgroundTransforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) signalling is involved in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We followed changes in biomarkers during treatment of patients with HCC with the TGF-βRI/ALK5 inhibitor galunisertib.MethodsThis phase 2 study (NCT01246986) enrolled second-line patients with advanced HCC into one of two cohorts of baseline serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP): Part A (AFP ≥1.5x ULN) or Part B (AFP <1.5x ULN). Baseline and postbaseline levels of AFP, TGF-β1, E-cadherin, selected miRNAs, and other plasma proteins were monitored.ResultsThe study enrolled 149 patients (Part A, 109; Part B, 40). Median OS was 7.3 months in Part A and 16.8 months in Part B. Baseline AFP, TGF-β1, E-cadherin, and an additional 16 plasma proteins (such as M-CSF, IL-6, ErbB3, ANG-2, neuropilin-1, MIP-3 alpha, KIM-1, uPA, IL-8, TIMP-1, ICAM-1, Apo A-1, CA-125, osteopontin, tetranectin, and IGFBP-1) were found to correlate with OS. In addition, a range of miRs were found to be associated with OS. In AFP responders (21% of patients in Part A with decrease of >20% from baseline) versus non-responders, median OS was 21.5 months versus 6.8 months (p = 0.0015). In TGF-β1 responders (51% of all patients) versus non-responders, median OS was 11.2 months versus 5.3 months (p = 0.0036).ConclusionsConsistent with previous findings, both baseline levels and changes from baseline of circulating AFP and TGF-β1 function as prognostic indicators of survival. Future trials are needed to confirm and extend these results.