After years of effort to develop active cancer immunotherapies, seven candidate products achieved promising results in phase I/II studies that triggered phase III randomized studies. One candidate to date has received an approvable letter from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), defining a clear path to licensure for sipuleucel-T (Provenge, Dendreon) within the next couple of years. The other phase III studies failed to achieve statistical criteria for some or all of the critical endpoints. Yet, there is widespread recognition that using a patient's own immune system to target and destroy cancer cells may offer an effective biological therapy with less toxicity than presently available anti-cancer therapies, and several candidates are still being evaluated in clinical studies. This review summarizes the lessons learned from these case studies, evaluates scientific, study design, and business factors that can affect study outcomes, identifies common challenges faced by sponsors developing these innovative therapies, and provides considerations for future study designs that may increase the likelihood of success.