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Clinical Review State of the Art Review

Cancer vaccines

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 22 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h988
  1. Lisa H Butterfield, professor of medicine
  1. 1Departments of Medicine, Surgery and Immunology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA
  1. Correspondence to: L H Butterfield butterfieldl{at}


Cancer vaccines are designed to promote tumor specific immune responses, particularly cytotoxic CD8 positive T cells that are specific to tumor antigens. The earliest vaccines, which were developed in 1994-95, tested non-mutated, shared tumor associated antigens that had been shown to be immunogenic and capable of inducing clinical responses in a minority of people with late stage cancer. Technological developments in the past few years have enabled the investigation of vaccines that target mutated antigens that are patient specific. Several platforms for cancer vaccination are being tested, including peptides, proteins, antigen presenting cells, tumor cells, and viral vectors. Standard of care treatments, such as surgery and ablation, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, can also induce antitumor immunity, thereby having cancer vaccine effects. The monitoring of patients’ immune responses at baseline and after standard of care treatment is shedding light on immune biomarkers. Combination therapies are being tested in clinical trials and are likely to be the best approach to improving patient outcomes.


  • Thanks to Robert Vonderheide (University of Pennsylvania) for helpful discussions.

  • Contributors: As sole author I accept responsibility for all aspects of this review and act as guarantor.

  • Funding: LHB is supported by NIH/NCI RO1 CA138635, NIH P50 CA121973, and NIH P30 CA047904.

  • Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and have none to declare.

  • Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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