Attempts to raise effective immunity against cancer are benefiting from information on the nature of the immunity involved and its regulation and, perhaps, now it is time to step back and define our approach in molecular terms prior to clinical testing. Although there are immunological differences between mice and patients, results from murine studies are encouraging early ‘translation’ of concepts to the clinic and it is vital to take immunological principles emerging from mice into clinical vaccine design. One is the requirement to break tolerance against over-expressed self-antigens, a potentially risky procedure but necessary for several cancer targets. A study in this issue of the European Journal of Immunology attempts to do this by using xenogeneic antigens, albeit with variable outcome. The unstated goal is to activate T-cell help but this can be achieved more effectively by harnessing a predictable anti-microbial repertoire. The second issue lies in the delivery of antigen. One strategy is "prime/boost" using DNA priming and boosting with a viral vector; however, this induces blocking immunity against viral proteins, and must be used judiciously. There are other physical methods to increase immunity such as electroporation, which can itself be used in ‘prime/boost’ sequence. These twin problems of engagement of T-cell help and delivery of adequate antigen can now be addressed by applying immunological logic to cancer vaccines.
See accompanying article http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/eji.200535514