Cancer vaccines, long considered failures, are hot again

The search for therapeutic cancer vaccines, now more than four decades old, is considered a failure. The first U.S. vaccine was controversial and unprofitable, only two have been approved, and neither is widely used. So far, the vaccines’ mystique far outstrips their track record.

That may be changing, however. A revitalization of vaccines is afoot, driven largely by the success of immunotherapy, the most cutting-edge area of cancer research today.

Early cancer vaccines were based on a simple premise: Bolster the immune system, the body’s built-in protective mechanism, to battle cancer cells. But even when cancer vaccines did stimulate an immune response, cancer tumors didn’t shrink, confounding researchers.

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