Cancer Vaccines


Cancer vaccines have been studied for approximately 40 years. During this time, a growing number of cancer antigen and vaccine platforms have been developed and a large number of clinical trials have been performed. These trials have regularly demonstrated an ability to activate antitumour immune responses and instances of clinical efficacy in responding patients. However, very few vaccines have achieved clinical end points in phase III trials and only one vaccine has been licenced by the FDA. With some notable exceptions, the disappointing performance of therapeutic cancer vaccines is due to a number of factors. However, recent developments in vaccination, combination immunotherapy and recent research detailing the immune suppression mediated by the tumour microenvironment offer new opportunities to realise the promise of therapeutic cancer vaccination.

Key Concepts

  • Cancer vaccines induce antitumour immune responses.
  • Cancer vaccines have yet to realise their potential in cancer immunotherapy.
  • The tumour microenvironment inhibits immune responses induced by cancer vaccines.
  • Combination therapy has the potential to improve the efficacy of cancer vaccination.
  • Cancer vaccines.

Keywords: cancer; vaccine; antigen; trial; T‐cell; immunotherapy

Figure 1. Cancer vaccine platforms. Cancer vaccines can make use of either shared or patient‐specific tumour antigens. Shared tumour antigens are typically expressed in numerous different tumours or in a particular tumour in many patients. Patient‐specific tumour antigen is derived from the patient's own tumour and used as vaccine antigen. Each source of tumour antigen can be used as part of one of many different vaccine platforms. These can be either standardised ‘off the shelf’ platforms such as allogenic tumour cells, viral vectors or nucleic acids or patient‐specific whole tumour‐, DC‐ or PBMC‐based vaccines.


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Further Reading

Demaria S, Coleman CN and Formenti SC (2016) Radiotherapy: changing the game in immunotherapy. Trends in Cancer 2 (6): 286–294.

Kleponis J, Skelton R and Zheng L (2015) Fuelling the engine and releasing the break: combinational therapy of cancer vaccines and immune checkpoint inhibitors. Cancer Biology & Medicine 12 (3): 201–208.

Ramachandran M, Dimberg A and Essand M (2017) The cancer‐immunity cycle as rational design for synthetic cancer drugs: novel DC vaccines and CAR T‐cells. Seminars in Cancer Biology 45: 23–35.

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Smith, Peter L, and Dalgleish, Angus G(Nov 2017) Cancer Vaccines. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0024228]