Vaccines have had a profound impact on the management and prevention of infectious disease. In addition, the development of vaccines against chronic diseases has attracted considerable interest as an approach to prevent, rather than treat, conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and others. Subunit vaccines consist of nongenetic components of the infectious agent or disease-related epitope. In this Review, we discuss peptide-based vaccines and their potential in three therapeutic areas: infectious disease, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. We discuss factors that contribute to vaccine efficacy and how these parameters may potentially be modulated by design. We examine both clinically tested vaccines as well as nascent approaches and explore current challenges and potential remedies. While peptide vaccines hold substantial promise in the prevention of human disease, many obstacles remain that have hampered their clinical use; thus, continued research efforts to address these challenges are warranted.
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