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The University of Southampton

Dr Sean Hua Lim MBChB, MRCP, PhD, FRCPath

Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant in Haematological Oncology

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Sean Lim is an Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant in Haematological Oncology.  Her position is funded by a Cancer Research UK Advanced Clinician Scientist Fellowship.  This enables her to uniquely bridge the divide between laboratory and clinic. Her research interest is in cancer immunotherapy.

“As a clinician scientist, my aim is to translate and accelerate discoveries from the laboratory into meaningful differences in patient care. My research examines how we can exploit our own immune system to destroy cancer using antibodies.”

Sean completed her medical degree at the University of Bristol in 2001, and then trained in general medicine before specialising in Haematology, which she completed in 2012.  During this time, she was awarded a clinical research training fellowship by the Medical Research Council which enabled her to simultaneously complete a PhD in cancer immunotherapy at Southampton in 2011.  Her work was awarded the Royal College of Pathologists’ Specialty Research Medal (2012) and UK CLL Forum’s Catovsky Prize (2011).

Through a Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist Fellowship award, Dr Lim spent two years as a visiting postdoctoral research fellow in Professor Ron Levy’s laboratory at Stanford University, USA.  In 2015, she returned to Southampton to lead her own research group.  Her recent work was awarded the British Association for Cancer Research (BACR) Roger Griffin Prize for Cancer Drug Discovery.  She is also a practicing clinician subspecialising in lymphoma.

MBChB, University of Bristol (2001)
MRCP, Royal College of Physicians, London (2004)
PhD, University of Southampton (2011)
FRCPath, Royal College of Pathologists, London (2012)

Appointments Held

April 2015-present:
Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant in Haematological Oncology, University of Southampton

April 2013- April 2015:
Visiting Fellow in Lymphoma Immunotherapy, Stanford University

January 2012-March 2013:
Specialist Registrar in Haematology, Southampton University Hospital

January 2009-January 2012:
MRC Clinical Research Fellow, University of Southampton

October 2005-December 2008:
Specialist Registrar in Haematology, Wessex Deanery

Research interests

Sean Lim’s primary research interest is in understanding and developing new immunotherapeutic approaches in cancer.  Her work is primarily concentrated on B-cell lymphoma, a common cancer in adulthood.  Lymphoma is a highly treatable cancer, but in some patients the disease follows a relapsing-remitting course.  For decades, it was conventionally treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy but advances on these approaches had plateaud and any improvement in response rates was offset by treatment toxicity. In the 1990s, rituximab, a monoclonal antibody targeting CD20, a marker expressed on B cells entered clinical use.  It was the first drug to successfully increase the cure rates for this condition since the introduction of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. More significantly, rituximab provided a proof-of-principle that the immune system can be manipulated by a simple antibody, to fight cancer.  Dr Lim’s research is now focused on how we can further exploit our immune system to fight cancer through the use of monoclonal antibodies. 

Previous research

Dr Lim’s initial research focused on understanding why rituximab failed in a proportion of cases. Her work showed that rituximab not only binds to its target CD20, but also to another marker present on B cells, Fc gamma RIIb (CD32b). Malignant B cells express more CD32b than normal B cells, and CD32b promotes the internalisation of rituximab into B cell. Consequently, this reduces engagement of immune cells, which kill rituximab-coated B cells, and hence, resistance to rituximab.  Thus the efficacy of rituximab could be improved by blocking its interaction with CD32b.  Her preclinical findings led to the development of a first-in-man, Phase I clinical trial of a novel CD32b antibody in lymphoma for which she is a sub-investigator in.

Present research

Her current research examines how the adaptive immune system can be exploited to enhance the efficacy of direct, tumour-targeting antibodies like rituximab.  She has shown T-cell stimulation with an agonistic antibody (e.g. against CD27) causes the release of cytokines and chemokines which activate and promote the infiltration of macrophages to the tumour site.  These macrophages are then able to phagocytose more tumour cells if they have been opsonised by a tumour-targeting antibody.  These preclinical data have also led to the development of a multicentre CRUK-sponsored Phase II study of rituximab and varlilumab in relapsed/refractory B-cell lymphoma, for which Dr Lim is also the Chief Investigator.  Dr Lim hopes to validate these findings in patients, and also understand whether these results can be extended to cancers beyond rituximab and lymphoma.

Tumour cell is coated by a tumour-targeting antibody
Tumour cell is coated by a tumour-targeting antibody


Cancer Sciences


Anna Turaj, Research Technician (May 2015 -)
Franziska Heckel, PhD student (October 2018-)
Michael Marshall, Postdoctoral research fellow (November 2018-)

Franziska Heckel, Masters Student, Bayreuth University (Feb-June 2018)
Emma Teal, Integrated PhD rotation student (Oct 2017-Jan 2018)

Faculty of Medicine
Cancer Sciences Unit Athena Swan Working Group committee
Centre for Cancer Immunology Steering Committee
Antibody & Vaccine Group Executive Committee

External responsibilities (past and present)
Article reviewer for Cancer Research, Blood, Scientific Reports, International Journal of Cancer
Grant reviewer for UKRI, CR UK, Irish HRB
Advisory Board Member for Celldex Therapeutics
CRUK Pioneering Research Editorial Panel
Clinical expert in NICE Single Technology Appraisal Evidence Review Group


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Integrated PhD project supervisor and BMEDSc project marker and supervisor

Dr Sean Hua Lim
Antibody & Vaccine Group
Centre for Cancer Immunology
University Hospital Southampton (MP127)
Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD


Room Number: SGH/3007/MP127

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