Strategies to use immune modulators in therapeutic vaccines against cancer

Semin Oncol. 2012 Jun;39(3):348-57. doi: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2012.02.002.


Cancers so much resemble self that they prove difficult for the immune system to eliminate, and those that have already escaped natural immunosurveillance have gotten past the natural immune barriers to malignancy. A successful therapeutic cancer vaccine must overcome these escape mechanisms. Our laboratory has focused on a multistep "push-pull" approach in which we combine strategies to overcome each of the mechanisms of escape. If tumor epitopes are insufficiently immunogenic, we increase their immunogenicity by epitope enhancement, improving their binding affinity to major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. If the anti-tumor response is too weak or of the wrong phenotype, we use cytokines, costimulatory molecules, Toll-like receptor ligands, and other molecular adjuvants to increase not only the quantity of the response but also its quality, to push the response in the right direction. Finally, the tumor invokes multiple immunosuppressive mechanisms to defend itself, so we need to overcome those as well, including blocking or depleting regulatory cells or inhibiting regulatory molecules, to pull the response by removing the brakes. Some of these strategies individually have now been translated into human clinical trials in cancer patients. Combinations of these in a push-pull approach are promising for the successful immunotherapy of cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology*
  • Cancer Vaccines / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Tumor Escape / drug effects*
  • Tumor Escape / immunology


  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Immunologic Factors