The present and future of peptide vaccines for cancer: single or multiple, long or short, alone or in combination?

Cancer J. Sep-Oct 2011;17(5):343-50. doi: 10.1097/PPO.0b013e318233e5b2.


Peptide vaccines incorporate one or more short or long amino acid sequences as tumor antigens, combined with a vaccine adjuvant. Thus, they fall broadly into the category of defined antigen vaccines, along with vaccines using protein, protein subunits, DNA, or RNA. They remain one of the most immunogenic approaches, based on measures of T-cell response in the blood or in draining lymph nodes. However, existing peptide vaccines have had limited success at inducing clinical tumor regressions, despite reliable induction of T-cell responses. Several new developments offer promise for improving peptide vaccines, including use of long peptides, optimization of adjuvants including toll-like receptor agonists, and combination with systemic therapies that may reduce tumor-associated immune dysfunction, such as blockade of PD-1/PD-L1 interactions. To apply these new approaches optimally, it will be critical to study their effects in the context of defined antigens, for which peptide vaccines are optimal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • B7-H1 Antigen / immunology
  • CD4 Antigens / immunology
  • CD40 Antigens / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology*
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Epitopes / chemistry
  • Epitopes / immunology
  • Humans
  • Phosphopeptides / chemistry
  • Phosphopeptides / immunology
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Vaccines, Subunit / chemistry*
  • Vaccines, Subunit / immunology*
  • Vaccines, Subunit / therapeutic use


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD274 protein, human
  • CD4 Antigens
  • CD40 Antigens
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Epitopes
  • PDCD1 protein, human
  • Phosphopeptides
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • Vaccines, Subunit