Over the past ten years significant advances have been made in the fields of gene therapy and tumour immunology, such that there now exists a considerable body of evidence validating the proof in the principle of gene therapy based cancer vaccines. While clinical benefit has so far been marginal, data from preclinical and early clinical trials of gene therapy combined with standard therapies are strongly suggestive of additional benefit. Many reasons have been proposed to explain the paucity of clinical responses to single agent vaccination strategies including the poor antigenicity of tumour cells and the development of tolerance through down-regulation of MHC, costimulatory, signal transduction, and other molecules essential for the generation of strong immune responses. In addition, there is now evidence from animal models that the growing tumour may actively inhibit the host immune response. Removal of the primary tumour prior to T cell transfer from the spleen of cancer bearing animals, led to effective tumour cell line specific immunity in the recipient mouse suggesting that there is an ongoing tumour-host interaction. This model also illustrates the potential difficulties of clinical vaccine trials in patients with advanced stage disease
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