Cancer Immunology

Over 12 million people die of cancer worldwide each year. Although treatments are improving, there’s still a long way to go, and some cancers are still very difficult to treat.

Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of deaths, and in the UK over 300,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year.

Typically cancer treatment involves either surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy - depending on the type of disease but these options can pose huge risks with serious side effects.

Cancer immunotherapy is an emerging field that represents one of the most exciting and promising approaches to treating cancer since the discovery of chemotherapies over 60 years ago.

The idea of harnessing your immune system to target tumours has been around for a long time, but in the last five years remarkable clinical trials results have led to immunotherapy being heralded as a potential turning point in the fight against cancer.

In some cancers such as melanoma, immunotherapy can now be used as standard treatment whereas it is still only available in clinical trials for other types of cancers.

At Birmingham our aim is to make significant contributions to understanding the fundamental processes that underlie the immune response to cancer and to translate this into therapeutic opportunities with our NHS partners.

Research at Birmingham is expertly placed, as the city offers a single biomedical campus with scientists and clinicians working side by side, contributing translational research from bench to bedside.

Cancer-targeted immunotherapies, both cellular and antibody-mediated, are poised to deliver transformative improvements in cancer treatment, with significant advances already evident in haematological and solid tumours. Our fundamental research is focused on three key themes, each critical to the development of such novel treatments.

One focus is on target positioning – identifying and characterising recognition of tumour antigens, and a second on understanding and therapeutically manipulating the tumour microenvironment.

In a third theme, our researchers are carrying out pre-clinical studies on a wide range of immunotherapeutic strategies, including new T-cell targeting, vaccination, antibody-based, and chemotherapy-based approaches, with the ultimate aim of advancing these novel therapeutic concepts into clinical trials.

Clinically these efforts are concentrated on haematological malignancies, head and neck, lung, colorectal and paediatric cancers.

Researchers at Birmingham are among the leaders in this fast evolving area, for example having discovered a new molecule found in the cancer cells of neuroblastoma, and identified the link between genetic changes in bowel tumours and the immune system’s response to the cancer.

“The discovery that antibodies could take the brakes off a patient’s own immune cells and activate the body’s defences was tremendously exciting, both for the development of a new treatment for patients but also for showing that the immune system can in fact successfully kill cancer cells.

The results from our own trials have been unbelievable; I’ve seen dramatic responses to immunotherapy drugs in my own patients, including those who have failed on conventional anti-cancer therapies.”

Professor Gary Middleton

Professor Gary Middleton

Professor of Medical Oncology

Discover more

  • Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy

    Birmingham has a very strong history of immunology research going back 50 years, and our large faculty of scientists and doctors are well positioned to make a world-leading contribution to understanding and treating immune-mediated disease.

  • Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Centre

    A collaborative grouping collectively focussed on developing internationally outstanding basic tumour immunology research and translating key discoveries into improvements in cancer treatment.

  • Cancer Research UK Birmingham Centre

    Bringing together scientists and clinicians to catalyse fundamental discovery science in cancer and novel therapeutic developments originating from this research.

  • Clinical Immunology Service

    The Clinical Immunology Service provides a comprehensive range of tests for the immunological investigation of patients together with a highest quality of service with prompt delivery of accurate results.

  • Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (Birmingham)

    Accelerating the translation of discovery science into the clinic by promoting rational development and application of novel therapies, providing clinical networks for their evaluation, and supplying linked patient data and samples for future research.

  • Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit

    Translating cutting edge science into improved patient care, both rapidly and safely, through the design and conduct of large multi-centre/international randomised trials as well as smaller more data intensive phase I trials of novel therapies.

  • MOOC – Cancer Immunotherapy: a Step Change in Cancer Treatment

    This free online course will teach you about the amazing job your immune system does in keeping you healthy, and how we can exploit it to fight cancer.

Our researchers

  • Key staff

    Find out about our researchers who work collaboratively within this field.