Autologous versus allogeneic cell-based vaccines?

Giorgio Parmiani, Lorenzo Pilla, Cristina MacCalli, Vincenzo Russo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Devitalized tumor cells either autologous or allogeneic have been used as anti-cancer vaccines with the purpose of facilitating the induction of an immune response able to destroy growing tumor cells since the identification of tumor antigens was deemed not to be necessary, particularly in the autologous system. Such vaccines were tested first in animal models and then in the clinics as unmodified tumor cells or after insertion of genes coding for factors known to increase the immune response against tumors. These vaccines were usually given by subcutaneous injections along with different immunological adjuvants. Such immunization approaches were found to be effective in mice when carried out in a tumor preventive setting but significantly less in the therapeutic context, that is, in the presence of an established tumor. By analyzing several clinical trials of vaccination using either autologous or allogeneic unmodified and gene-modified tumor cells published in the last 10 to 15 years, we conclude for a lack of sufficient evidence for efficacy of this strategy in inducing both a strong immune response and a therapeutic response. A potential variant of this strategy is the direct intratumoral injection of immunostimulatory genes delivered by vectors in vivo. But even this approach failed to provide a statistically significant clinical benefit for the cancer patients.We also point out the inherent drawbacks of the tumor cell-based vaccine strategy that include (a) a limited frequency by which human tumor lines can be obtained from clinical samples, (b) the low number of available cells for vaccination, (c) the release of immune-suppressive factors by tumor cells, and (d) the cost and time necessary for standardization and collecting/expanding a number of cells according to the approved regulatory requirements. Thus, taking into consideration the new developments in cancer vaccines, we believe that tumor cell-based vaccines should be dismissed as anti-cancer vaccines unless a clear benefit could be demonstrated by the few ongoing trials of combination with new immunomodulating reagents (eg, anti-CTLA4, PD-1, chemotherapy).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-336
Number of pages6
JournalCancer Journal (United States)
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011


  • clinical response
  • gene-modified cancer cells
  • immune response
  • metastatic disease
  • Tumor cell vaccines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology

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