Trial watch: DNA vaccines for cancer therapy

Oncoimmunology. 2013 Apr 1;2(4):e23803. doi: 10.4161/onci.23803.


The foundation of modern vaccinology dates back to the 1790s, when the English physician Edward Jenner uncovered the tremendous medical potential of prophylactic vaccination. Jenner's work ignited a wave of nationwide vaccination campaigns abating the incidence of multiple life-threatening infectious diseases and culminating with the eradication of natural smallpox virus, which was definitively certified by the WHO in 1980. The possibility of using vaccines against cancer was first proposed at the end of the 19th century by Paul Ehrlich and William Coley. However, it was not until the 1990s that such a hypothesis began to be intensively investigated, following the realization that the immune system is not completely unresponsive to tumors and that neoplastic cells express immunogenic tumor-associated antigens (TAAs). Nowadays, anticancer vaccines are rapidly moving from the bench to the bedside, and a few prophylactic and therapeutic preparations have already been approved by FDA for use in humans. In this setting, one interesting approach is constituted by DNA vaccines, i.e., TAA-encoding circularized DNA constructs, often of bacterial origin, that are delivered to patients as such or by means of specific vectors, including (but not limited to) liposomal preparations, nanoparticles, bacteria and viruses. The administration of DNA vaccines is most often performed via the intramuscular or subcutaneous route and is expected to cause (1) the endogenous synthesis of the TAA by myocytes and/or resident antigen-presenting cells; (2) the presentation of TAA-derived peptides on the cell surface, in association with MHC class I molecules; and (3) the activation of potentially therapeutic tumor-specific immune responses. In this Trial Watch, we will summarize the results of recent clinical trials that have evaluated/are evaluating DNA vaccines as therapeutic interventions against cancer.

Keywords: Saccharomyces cerevisiae; Salmonella typhimurium; cross-presentation; dendritic cells; electroporation; mucosal immunity.