Since the mid-1990s, dendritic cells have been used in clinical trials as cellular mediators for therapeutic vaccination of patients with cancer. Dendritic cell-based immunotherapy is safe and can induce antitumour immunity, even in patients with advanced disease. However, clinical responses have been disappointing, with classic objective tumour response rates rarely exceeding 15%. Paradoxically, findings from emerging research indicate that dendritic cell-based vaccination might improve survival, advocating implementation of alternative endpoints to assess the true clinical potency of dendritic cell-based vaccination. We review the clinical effectiveness of dendritic cell-based vaccine therapy in melanoma, prostate cancer, malignant glioma, and renal cell carcinoma, and summarise the most important lessons from almost two decades of clinical studies of dendritic cell-based immunotherapy in these malignant disorders. We also address how the specialty is evolving, and which new therapeutic concepts are being translated into clinical trials to leverage the clinical effectiveness of dendritic cell-based cancer immunotherapy. Specifically, we discuss two main trends: the implementation of the next-generation dendritic cell vaccines that have improved immunogenicity, and the emerging paradigm of combination of dendritic cell vaccination with other cancer therapies.
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