The present status and future prospects of peptide-based cancer vaccines

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Tumor cells commonly express several antigens, such as tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) or mutation-derived antigens (neoantigens), that can be regarded as foreign antigens and elicit anti-tumor immune responses in cancer patients. Various TAAs or neoantigens expressed in cancer cells have been identified and utilized as targets for cancer vaccines. One approach to elicit tumor-specific immune responses is termed peptide-based cancer vaccination; it involves administrating TAAs or neoantigen-derived peptide for treatment of cancers. There have been several forms of peptide-based cancer vaccines depending on which effector cells, such as CTLs or CD4+ T-helper cells, are targeted to be activated. Many phase I and II clinical trials of peptide-based cancer vaccines using TAA-derived CTL epitopes, T-helper cell epitopes or dendritic cells loaded with TAA-derived peptides for various malignant tumors have been conducted and provide clinical benefits in a small fraction of patients. Nowadays, to improve the efficiency of peptide-based cancer vaccines, combination immunotherapy of peptide-based cancer vaccines with the immune-checkpoint blockade therapies using mAbs specific for CTLA-4, programmed cell death 1 (PD-1), or PD-1 ligand 1 (PD-L1) have been developed for clinical application. Furthermore, along with the recent technological progress in genetic and bioinformatic analysis, it has become easier to identify neoantigens from individual cancer patients. It is expected that peptide-based cancer vaccines targeting neoantigens as a personalized cancer immunotherapy will be developed.

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