The aim of this study was to evaluate the clinical efficacy as determined by time to progression and response rate (RR) of autologous vitespen (formerly HSPPC-96; Oncophage, Antigenics Inc., New York, NY, USA) with and without interleukin-2 (IL-2; Proleukin: Chiron, Emoryville, CA, USA) in stage IV metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) patients undergoing nephrectomy. Eighty-four patients were enrolled on study, and then underwent nephrectomy and harvest of tumour tissue for use in autologous vaccine manufacture. Initial treatment schedule started approximately 4 weeks after surgery and consisted of six injections: once weekly for 4 weeks, then two injections biweekly (vaccines administered at weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8), followed by restaging at or around week 10. Patients who had stable or responsive disease continued to receive vaccine, with four more vaccinations biweekly (at weeks 10, 12, 14, 16). Patients who had progressive disease at week-10 evaluation received four consecutive 5-day-per-week courses of 11 x 10(6) U of IL-2 subcutaneously (weeks 10, 11, 12, 13), with four doses of vitespen at 2-week intervals (at weeks 10, 12, 14, 16). At the next evaluation (week 18), patients with a complete response received two further cycles of vitespen (with IL-2 if also received during prior cycle) or until vaccine supply was exhausted. Patients with stable disease or partial response repeated their prior cycle of therapy. Disease progressors who had not yet received IL-2 began IL-2 treatment, and progressors who had already received IL-2 came off study. Of 60 evaluable patients, 2 demonstrated complete response (CR), 2 showed partial response (PR), 7 showed stable disease, and 33 patients progressed. Sixteen patients had unconfirmed stable disease. Two patients who progressed on vaccine alone experienced disease stabilisation when IL-2 was added. Treatment with vitespen did not result in a discernable benefit in the majority of patients with metastatic RCC treated in this study. Use in combination with immunoregulatory agents may enhance the efficacy of vitespen.