Current state of vaccine therapies in non-small-cell lung cancer

Clin Lung Cancer. 2008 Feb;9 Suppl 1:S28-36. doi: 10.3816/clc.2008.s.005.


A large variety of cancer vaccines have undergone extensive testing in early-phase clinical trials. A limited number have also been tested in randomized phase II clinical trials. Encouraging trends toward increased survival in the vaccine arms have been recently observed for 2 vaccine candidates in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer. These have provided the impetus for the initiation of phase III trials in large groups of patients with lung cancer. These vaccines target 2 antigens widely expressed in lung carcinomas: melanoma-associated antigen 3, a cancer testis antigen; and mucin 1, an antigen overexpressed in a largely deglycosylated form in advanced tumors. Therapeutic cancer vaccines aim at inducing strong CD8 and CD4 T-cell responses. The majority of vaccines recently tested in phase I clinical trials show efficacy in terms of induction of specific tumor antigen immunity. However, clinical efficacy remains to be determined but appears limited. Efforts are thus aimed at understanding the basis for this apparent lack of effect on tumors. Two major factors are involved. On one hand, current vaccines are suboptimal. Strong adjuvant agents and appropriate tumor antigens are needed. Moreover, dose, route, and schedule also need optimization. On the other hand, it is now clear that large tumors often present a tolerogenic microenvironment that hampers effective antitumor immunity. The partial understanding of the molecular pathways leading to functional inactivation of T cells at tumor sites has provided new targets for intervention. In this regard, blockade of cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 and programmed death-1 with humanized monoclonal antibodies has reached the clinical testing stage. In the future, more potent cancer vaccines will benefit from intense research in antigen discovery and adjuvant agents. Furthermore, it is likely that vaccines need to be combined with compounds that reverse major tolerogenic pathways that are constitutively active at the tumor site. Developing these combined approaches to vaccination in cancer promises new, exciting findings and, at the same time, poses important challenges to academic research institutions and the pharmaceutical industry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Active / methods*
  • Lung Neoplasms / immunology
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cancer Vaccines