Peptide-based vaccine for cancer therapies

Front Immunol. 2023 Aug 16:14:1210044. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2023.1210044. eCollection 2023.


Different strategies based on peptides are available for cancer treatment, in particular to counter-act the progression of tumor growth and disease relapse. In the last decade, in the context of therapeutic strategies against cancer, peptide-based vaccines have been evaluated in different tumor models. The peptides selected for cancer vaccine development can be classified in two main type: tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) and tumor-specific antigens (TSAs), which are captured, internalized, processed and presented by antigen-presenting cells (APCs) to cell-mediated immunity. Peptides loaded onto MHC class I are recognized by a specific TCR of CD8+ T cells, which are activated to exert their cytotoxic activity against tumor cells presenting the same peptide-MHC-I complex. This process is defined as active immunotherapy as the host's immune system is either de novo activated or restimulated to mount an effective, tumor-specific immune reaction that may ultimately lead to tu-mor regression. However, while the preclinical data have frequently shown encouraging results, therapeutic cancer vaccines clinical trials, including those based on peptides have not provided satisfactory data to date. The limited efficacy of peptide-based cancer vaccines is the consequence of several factors, including the identification of specific target tumor antigens, the limited immunogenicity of peptides and the highly immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME). An effective cancer vaccine can be developed only by addressing all such different aspects. The present review describes the state of the art for each of such factors.

Keywords: MHC; TAA; TME; adjuvant; combinatorial strategies; immunopeptidome; molecular mimicry; peptides.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigen-Presenting Cells
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Cancer Vaccines* / therapeutic use
  • Genes, MHC Class I
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Neoplasms* / therapy


  • Cancer Vaccines

Grants and funding

The study was funded by the Italian Ministry of Health through Institutional “Ricerca Corrente” (LB and MT) L2/3 project to LB “Tumor antigen discovery for innovative cancer immunotherapies in HCC: from benchside to bedside (HepAnt)”. L2/13 project to MT “Peptide optimization to improve antigen presentation and anti-tumor response for sarcomas”.