Colorectal cancer vaccines: Tumor-associated antigens vs neoantigens

World J Gastroenterol. 2018 Dec 28;24(48):5418-5432. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v24.i48.5418.


Therapeutic options for the treatment of colorectal cancer (CRC) are diverse but still not always satisfying. Recent success of immune checkpoint inhibition treatment for the subgroup of CRC patients suffering from hyper-mutated tumors suggests a permanent role of immune therapy in the clinical management of CRC. Substantial improvement in treatment outcome could be achieved by development of efficient patient-individual CRC vaccination strategies. This mini-review summarizes the current knowledge on the two general classes of targets: tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) and tumor-specific antigens. TAAs like carcinoembryonic antigen and melanoma associated antigen are present in and shared by a subgroup of patients and a variety of clinical studies examined the efficacy of different TAA-derived peptide vaccines. Combinations of several TAAs as the next step and the development of personalized TAA-based peptide vaccines are discussed. Improvements of peptide-based vaccines achievable by adjuvants and immune-stimulatory chemotherapeutics are highlighted. Finally, we sum up clinical studies using tumor-specific antigens - in CRC almost exclusively neoantigens - which revealed promising results; particularly no severe adverse events were reported so far. Critical progress for clinical outcomes can be expected by individualizing neoantigen-based peptide vaccines and combining them with immune-stimulatory chemotherapeutics and immune checkpoint inhibitors. In light of these data and latest developments, truly personalized neoantigen-based peptide vaccines can be expected to fulfill modern precision medicine's requirements and will manifest as treatment pillar for routine clinical management of CRC.

Keywords: Cancer vaccines; Colorectal neoplasm; Immunotherapy; Neoantigen(s); Neoplasm antigen; Tumor-associated antigens; Tumor-specific antigens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vaccination / methods
  • Vaccines, Subunit / immunology
  • Vaccines, Subunit / therapeutic use


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Vaccines, Subunit