Advanced Therapies for Liver Metastases (LiMeT)

  • End date
    Jun 30, 2026
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    IRCCS San Raffaele
Updated on 4 October 2022
Accepts healthy volunteers


Liver metastases (MTS) are the main cause of death for patients affected by colorectal carcinoma (CRC) and pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), thus representing the major unmet clinical need for these malignancies.

Based on preliminary and published data, the investigators hypothesize that innovative immune, gene and cell therapy approaches might overcome the tolerogenic liver microenvironment and represent powerful therapeutic tools for liver MTS of PDAC and CRC.

The investigators have therefore planned an observational clinical study to enroll distinct cohorts of patients (i.e., metastatic CRC, metastatic and non-metastatic PDAC) and finely characterize, through integrated state-of-the-art -omics, the immune and non-immune microenvironment of their primary tumor and/or liver metastases as well as correlate changes in the activation status and phenotype of peripheral blood leukocytes. Healthy volunteers will be enrolled as negative controls.

The investigators aim at identifying: i) actionable tumor associated antigens (TAAs) and local immune suppressive and regulatory pathways; ii) biological parameters for early diagnosis of relapse; iii) the effect of therapies on the shaping of anti-tumor immune responses.

Data collected will be instrumental for the generation of novel advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs). Indeed, this protocol is part of a multi-partner translational program, supported by the AIRC 5 per Mille 2019 grant, focused on the development, validation and implementation for clinical testing of ATMPs to ameliorate the cure of CRC and PDAC and possibly help the study of other solid tumors.

Moreover, the systematic and long-term follow-up of enrolled patients will possibly point at early predictors of differential prognosis and patients' categories eligible for tailored therapies, including those with the novel ATMPs.


Background and rationale - CRC and PDAC are the second and fourth most common cause of cancer death, respectively. Patients affected by these cancers die of liver MTS. Conventional therapies are active in either primary tumors but fail in metastatic disease. The effectiveness of immunotherapy by immune checkpoint blockade and adoptive cell therapy with tumor-specific T cells is only partial or temporary in MTS from solid tumors, because of local immunosuppressive mechanisms. This is particularly relevant for hepatic MTS, in which a natural tolerogenic milieu may further sustain immunosuppression induced by cancer cells and infiltrating immune cells, such as tumor associated macrophages (TAMs), myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), neutrophils, and regulatory T or B cells.

In this regard, evidence suggests that progression of primary or metastatic CRC correlates with poor immune infiltration and inflammation. Moreover, our published results in primary PDAC support a correlation between tumor progression and a strong type 2 anti-inflammatory/immunosuppressive signature. Efficacy of chemotherapy is known to rely also on reactivation and/or repolarization of tumor targeting immune responses. Pre-surgical chemotherapy may induce beneficial effects and potentially targetable changes in the immune profile of CRC or PDAC MTS.

The investigators hypothesize that a combination of: i) direct cancer cell killing by adoptively transferred tumor-specific T cells and ii) indirect control of tumor progression via reprogramming of the tumor microenvironment would control hepatic MTS of CRC and PDAC.

Thus the investigators propose a thorough characterization of the metastatic milieu in these two cancer types to rationally shape, on the basis of similarities and differences, innovative ATMPs.

Experimental results obtained from biological samples will be correlated: i) with clinical data from patients at the time of enrollment and along their follow-up; and ii) for a subgroup of patients, with biochemical and immunological data from peripheral blood samples routinely collected as a part of their clinical follow-up, with the additional aim to identify novel biologic parameters and/or signatures to help the stratification of patients and the tailoring of treatments.

Objectives - The investigators want to study:

  1. the tumor mutational burden and composition of the metastatic tumor microenvironment in the liver;
  2. the inhibitory pathways that constrain immunity in liver MTS;
  3. the antigenic and clonal breadth of anti-tumor T cell responses;
  4. the spatial-temporal variations of effector and regulatory immune cells upon therapy;
  5. the characteristics of tumor cells and their microenvironment in liver MTS versus (vs) primary tumor;
  6. longitudinal variations of clinical parameters as well as blood-derived biological and immunological markers during the medical follow-up of patients.

Our primary objectives will be:

  1. to identify immune suppressive/exhaustion pathways
  2. to develop a library of tumor-specific TCR (N≥5/tumor type) and identify new CAR targets (N≥1/tumor type) in CRC and PDAC MTS

Study design - This clinical protocol aims at deeply characterizing MTS tumor cells and their microenvironment, including possibly informative dynamic modifications from pro-tumor to anti-tumor profiles that may follow chemotherapy, which is administered pre-surgery (neo-adjuvant) to a substantial fraction of patients. PDAC and CRC MTS patients will be therefore characterized by either cross-sectional or longitudinal investigations on chemotherapy-naïve vs -treated patients.

In addition, the investigators aim at comparing hepatic MTS with primary tumor, in order to highlight dynamic qualitative modifications in cancer cells, immune infiltrates and not-immune microenvironment that could facilitate disease progression toward metastatic spread. These modifications may offer a window of opportunity for the optimal application of our ATMPs. To this purpose, primary non-metastatic PDAC patients undergoing surgical resection will be enrolled in this study and followed-up for monitoring the development of metachronous liver MTS, that, whenever possible, will be characterized and compared to their matched/not matched, previously collected, primary tumor samples. Peripheral blood samples at the time of liver MTS diagnosis will be also collected and analyzed. Also, in those CRC MTS patients undergoing synchronous resection of primary CRC and hepatic MTS, comparative analyses will be carried out on tumor from both sites, allowing intra- and inter-patient profiling of both tumor niches.

Moreover, results from multi-level research analyses will be correlated with clinical data collected from all patients since the time of enrollment for a 2-year follow-up period, in case of PDAC patients, and for 3-year follow-up period, in case of CRC patients.

In particular, for metastatic CRC patients, the 3-year clinical follow-up will be associated with concurrent collection of blood samples at serial timepoints, that will be prospectively biobanked for further analyses aimed at: i) studying biological and immunological correlates of the patient's clinical status; ii) evaluating key discriminants previously identified in blood samples analyzed at the time of liver MTS surgery, to serve as early predictors of liver progression or recurrence and possibly as indicators for therapeutic stratification.

The investigators expect to collect tissue/blood samples and clinical data from at least:

  • 200 metastatic CRC patients (either synchronous or metachronous);
  • 150 non-metastatic PDAC patients;
  • 75 synchronous PDAC MTS patients and about 20 metachronous PDAC MTS patients, the latter originally enrolled as primary non-metastatic patients for the longitudinal study, for a total of 95 metastatic PDAC patients;
  • 30 healthy volunteers, as negative controls. Almost 505 different subjects will be enrolled in the protocol.

Different biological samples (peripheral blood, primary and/or metastatic tumor tissue, portal blood) will be collected, in the course of the standard diagnostic and therapeutic care of those patients, and will be in part directly analyzed and in part biobanked for further studies. In parallel, clinical data will be collected from patients since the time of enrollment in the study for a follow-up period of 2 years.

The statistical analysis of collected data will be performed throughout the clinical study, starting 6 months after the enrollment of the first patient until 6 months after the end of patients' follow-up, for a total of 7 years. The study will last 7 years.

Different biological samples (peripheral blood, primary and/or metastatic tumor tissue, portal blood) will be collected, in the course of the standard diagnostic and therapeutic care of those patients, and will be in part directly analyzed and in part biobanked for further studies. In parallel, clinical data will be collected from patients since the time of enrollment in the study for a follow-up period of 2 years, for PDAC patients, and of 3 years, for CRC patients.

The statistical analysis of the collected clinical and experimental data will be carried out all along the duration of the clinical study, starting 6 months after the enrollment of the first patient until the end of patients' follow-up, for a total of 7 years. The study will last 7 years.

The research activities will be organized and integrated in 6 work packages (WPs):

  1. Collection of the material from patients with CRC and PDAC MTS to the liver and with primary non-metastatic resectable PDAC;
  2. Definition of the tumor mutational burden, epigenetic and gene expression profile of the CRC and PDAC metastatic liver at bulk and at single cell level;
  3. Evaluation of the molecular and cellular composition of CRC and, if possible, PDAC liver MTS by spatial transcriptomics technologies (NICHE-seq and Visium);
  4. Characterization of the immune landscapes of CRC and, if possible, PDAC liver MTS by high dimensional flow cytometry;
  5. Validation of the molecular results obtained in 2) and 4).
  6. Definition of the antigenic landscape and TCR repertoire of CRC and PDAC liver MTS Longitudinal PDAC primary tumor immune microenvironment characterization.

The results obtained by the above mentioned WPs will be crossed with clinical follow-up data.

Condition Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC), Colorectal Cancer (CRC), Liver Metastasis
Treatment Observational study
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04622423
SponsorIRCCS San Raffaele
Last Modified on4 October 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Patients with clinical/radiological diagnosis/suspicious of pancreatic adenocarcinoma metastatic to the liver, with subsequent cytological/histological confirmation (stage IV disease, AJCC)
Age ≥18
Karnofsky performance status ≥50
Metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma patients with histological specimens from whole liver metastasis biopsy or core liver biopsy collected at IRCCS San Raffaele and stored in the institutional biobank Centro Risorse Biologiche (CRB-OSR)
Written Informed consent
Patients with clinical/radiological diagnosis of not metastatic primary PDAC that will undergo pancreatic resection at IRCCS San Raffaele

Exclusion Criteria

Severe comorbidities (e.g., cardiac diseases, history of psychiatric disabilities) representing an absolute contraindication for whole or core liver metastasis biopsy
Pregnancy or lactation
Metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma patients enrolled in other research trials entailing the analysis of the liver metastasis histological sample
Inability to provide a written informed consent
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