Since the early 1990s, numerous cancer Ag have been defined and for a handful of these there is now some clinical experience, which has made it possible to assess their value as targets for cancer immunotherapy. The cancer-testis Ag have been particularly attractive because their expression is limited to cancer and virtually no non-malignant cells apart from germ cells and trophoblast. Among these, NY-ESO-1 has been the focus of our attention. The exceptional immunogenicity of this Ag coupled with its widespread distribution among many cancer types make it a very good vaccine candidate, with the potential to be used in vaccines against many types of malignancies. This article reviews emerging knowledge about the biology of NY-ESO-1 and experience with the early clinical development of vaccines directed against NY-ESO-1. These early studies have yielded a wealth of information about the immunology of NY-ESO-1 and set the scene for future clinical strategies for immune targeting of cancer.