Breast cancer vaccines: a clinical reality or fairy tale?

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Abstract

The characterization of tumor antigens recognized by immune effector cells has opened the perspective of developing therapeutic vaccines in the field of breast cancer. The potential advantages of the vaccines are: (i) the induction of a robust immune response against tumors that are spontaneously weekly immunogenic; (ii) the tumor specificity for some antigens; (iii) the good tolerance and safety profile and (iv) the long-term immune memory, critical to prevent efficiently tumor recurrence. Most trials evaluating breast cancer vaccines have been carried out in patients with extended metastatic breast cancer, characterized by aggressive tumors, resistant to standard cytotoxic treatments, so that clinical efficacy was difficult to achieve. However, some significant immune responses against tumor antigens induced upon vaccinations were recorded. The aim of this review is to analyze the activity of vaccination strategies in current clinical trials. Data of clinical activity have been observed by using vaccines targeting HER2/neu protein, human telomerase reverse transcriptase, carcinoembryonic antigen and carbohydrate antigen given after stem cell rescue. The review discusses possible future directions for vaccine development and applications in the adjuvant setting.

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