Beyond Just Peptide Antigens: The Complex World of Peptide-Based Cancer Vaccines

Front Immunol. 2021 Jun 30:12:696791. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.696791. eCollection 2021.


Peptide-based cancer vaccines rely upon the strong activation of the adaptive immune response to elicit its effector function. They have shown to be highly specific and safe, but have yet to prove themselves as an efficacious treatment for cancer in the clinic. This is for a variety of reasons, including tumour heterogeneity, self-tolerance, and immune suppression. Importance has been placed on the overall design of peptide-based cancer vaccines, which have evolved from simple peptide derivatives of a cancer antigen, to complex drugs; incorporating overlapping regions, conjugates, and delivery systems to target and stimulate different components of antigen presenting cells, and to bolster antigen cross-presentation. Peptide-based cancer vaccines are increasingly becoming more personalised to an individual's tumour antigen repertoire and are often combined with existing cancer treatments. This strategy ultimately aids in combating the shortcomings of a more generalised vaccine strategy and provides a comprehensive treatment, taking into consideration cancer cell variability and its ability to avoid immune interrogation.

Keywords: antigen; cancer; cross-presentation; dendritic cells; immunotherapy; peptide; vaccine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / therapeutic use*
  • Cancer Vaccines / genetics
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / immunology
  • Peptides / therapeutic use*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology
  • Vaccines, Subunit / genetics
  • Vaccines, Subunit / immunology
  • Vaccines, Subunit / therapeutic use


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Peptides
  • Vaccines, Subunit