Therapeutic cancer vaccines: past, present, and future

Adv Cancer Res. 2013;119:421-75. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-407190-2.00007-1.


Therapeutic vaccines represent a viable option for active immunotherapy of cancers that aim to treat late stage disease by using a patient's own immune system. The promising results from clinical trials recently led to the approval of the first therapeutic cancer vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This major breakthrough not only provides a new treatment modality for cancer management but also paves the way for rationally designing and optimizing future vaccines with improved anticancer efficacy. Numerous vaccine strategies are currently being evaluated both preclinically and clinically. This review discusses therapeutic cancer vaccines from diverse platforms or targets as well as the preclinical and clinical studies employing these therapeutic vaccines. We also consider tumor-induced immune suppression that hinders the potency of therapeutic vaccines, and potential strategies to counteract these mechanisms for generating more robust and durable antitumor immune responses.

Keywords: Cancer vaccine; Immune modulator; Immunosuppression; Immunotherapy; Tumor microenvironment; Tumor-associated antigen.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / chemistry
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dendritic Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immune System
  • Medical Oncology / trends
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration
  • Vaccines, DNA / therapeutic use


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Vaccines, DNA