Dr Sean Lim

A scientist at the Centre for Cancer Immunology has been awarded £1.65million to expand her research into ways the immune system can be harnessed and boosted to destroy cancer cells.

Associate Professor Dr Sean Lim is part of the University of Southampton’s Antibody and Vaccine Group at the Centre and investigates ways antibodies can be designed and engineered to recognise specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells, thereby allowing researchers to use them as potential new treatments.

Her recent work found that a specific combination of antibodies – anti-CD27 and anti-CD20 – was highly effective in curing mice with lymphoma. The combination is now being tested in patients as part of a clinical trial (RiVa).

The new funding, from Cancer Research UK, which comes as an Advanced Clinician Scientist Fellowship, will allow Dr Lim to expand this study.

Dr Lim said: “This project will expand on the RiVa trial to look at a wider variety of antibodies which could have similar effects in stimulating immune cells. We will also look further than just lymphoma, branching into solid tumour cancers, including breast and colon cancers.”

The grant will also allow Dr Lim to develop a novel technology called CITE-seq, which is capable of simultaneous measurement of RNA and proteins from single cells.

She added: “This will enable us to scrutinise the effects of the antibodies on the tumour and surrounding immune system in tremendous detail. The main aim is to get better, broader information about the tumour microenvironment and the number immune cells present within it, to see how the immune system is responding to combination antibody treatments. This knowledge is imperative for the success of the next antibody trials we design.”

The research will be carried out at the Centre for Cancer Immunology, where Dr Lim is based, but will involve multiple local, national and international collaborators, including the New York Genome Centre.