Dr Liam Cox BA (hons) (Cantab), PhD (Cantab)

Dr Liam Cox

School of Chemistry
Deputy Head of School
Reader in Biological Organic Chemistry

Contact details

School of Chemistry
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Liam Cox is a Reader in Biological Organic Chemistry at The University of Birmingham and heads up the School’s Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery Research Theme. 

Since joining Birmingham in 1999, he has supervised over 20 PhD students, published extensively in the scientific literature and secured funding from the EPSRC and MRC, EU, Wellcome Trust, The Leverhulme Trust and the Pharmaceutical Industry.  His research interests are currently focused around the development of new synthetic methods and the application of molecular synthesis to chemical biology and drug discovery.

He is currently the Project Lead on a €1.6M EU-funded European Industrial Doctorate Innovative Training Network, iDESIGN, whose primary focus is to deliver better starting points for drug discovery.


  • Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (2002)
  • PhD in Organic Chemistry, University of Cambridge (1998)
  • BA (Hons) in Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge (1994)
  • Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2003-present)


Liam Cox graduated in 1994 from the University of Cambridge (King’s College) with a BA (hons) Class I degree in Natural Sciences, specialising in Chemistry. He remained in Cambridge to carry out his PhD, working under the supervision of Professor Steven Ley FRS CBE on the use of π-allyltricarbonyliron lactone complexes in remote asymmetric induction. 

On completing his PhD in 1997, he moved to the ETH-Zürich to work as a post-doctoral research fellow in the group of Professor François Diederich where he developed synthetic approaches to chiral 1,3-diethynylallenes and investigated their use as highly unsaturated monomers for the preparation of helical polymers.

In September 1999, he took up an Academic position at the University of Birmingham where he is currently a Reader in Biological Organic Chemistry and since 2018, Deputy Head of School.


Dr Cox has taught a wide range of courses spanning core Organic Chemistry and Biological Organic Chemistry. 

  • Level 1 courses: Carbonyl Chemistry; Nucleophilic Substitution and Eelimination 
  • Level 2 courses: Aromatic Chemistry; Enolates; Retrosynthesis 
  • Level 3 courses: Conformational Analysis; Applications of Main Group Elements in Synthesis
  • Level 4 courses: Natural Product Synthesis; Biological Carbohydrate Chemistry

Postgraduate supervision

Research projects in the Cox group provide excellent training for anyone wishing to pursue a career in synthetic organic chemistry or chemical biology. 

Potential applicants interested in joining the group are encouraged to contact Dr Cox directly by email.



Organic Chemistry focusing on Stereoselective Synthesis and Asymmetric Catalysis
The Cox group has a long-standing interest in stereoselective synthesis and in particular, the allylation reaction, which is one of the most valuable C-C bond-forming processes available to the synthetic chemist. We have shown how employing a temporary silicon connection to tether two reacting moieties can dramatically improve / reverse the stereoselectivity of a subsequent intramolecular allylation [Beignet, J., Jervis, P. J., Cox, L. R., (2008), Temporary Silicon Connection Strategies in Intramolecular Allylation of Aldehydes using Allylsilanes. J. Org. Chem., 73: 5462-5475.].

We have also developed intramolecular allylation strategies to synthesise a range of oxygen heterocycles and recently employed our methodology in the first total synthesis of the natural product (-)-aureonitol [Jervis, P. J., Cox, L. R., (2008), Total synthesis of (-)-Aureonitol and 3-epi-Aureonitol. Confirmation of Relative Stereochemistry. J. Org. Chem., 73: 7616-7624.].

Research has more recently shifted away from substrate-controlled reactions to reagent-controlled processes, with a particular focus on the use of chiral Brønsted acids and chiral anions as organocatalysts for the enantioselective allylation of latent electrophiles.

Carbohydrate Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Carbohydrate chemistry has been a research interest in the group for some time. In recent years, we have begun to employ our synthesis skills in the glycolipid arena as part of a highly multidisciplinary project in association with Prof Del Besra (Microbiology, Birmingham) and Prof Vincenzo Cerundolo (Immunology, Oxford).  

This productive interdisciplinary research programme focuses on the CD1d molecule, which is a protein that binds glycolipids. Recognition of the resulting protein-lipid complex by receptors on invariant Natural Killer T cells results in an immune response. 

We have synthesised a diverse range of novel glycolipids and shown that the structure of the bound glycolipid determines whether the immune response is activated or suppressed. This opens up the possibility of using these small-molecule regulators of the immune response to treat a range of diseases [Jervis, P. J., Cox, L. R., Besra, G. S. (2011) Synthesis of a Versatile Building Block for the Preparation of 6-N-Derivatized α-Galactosyl Ceramides: Rapid Access to Biologically Active Glycolipids. J. Org. Chem., 76: 320-323.]. 

We are also using labelled analogues to help shed more insight into the mode of action of different glycolipids CD1d agonists [Garcia-Diaz, Y. R., Wojno, J., Cox, L. R., Besra, G. S., (2009), Synthesis of Threitol Ceramide and [14C]Threitol Ceramide, Non-Glycosidic Analogues of the Potent CD1d Antigen α-Galactosyl Ceramide. Tetrahedron: Asymmetry, 20: 747-753.].

Oligoynes and related π-Conjugated Molecules
We have developed a conceptually new approach to oligoyne assembly [for a review: Weller, M. D., Cox, L. R., (2009), A Novel Twist on an Old Theme: β-Halovinylsilanes, A New Elimination Approach to Oligoyne Assembly. C. R. Chimie, 12: 366-377.], which has culminated in our report of the synthesis of a dodecayne [Simpkins, S. M. E., Weller, M. D., Cox, L. R., (2007), β-Chlorovinylsilanes as Masked Alkynes in Oligoyne Assembly: Synthesis of the First Aryl-End-Capped Dodecayne. Chem. Commun., 4035-4037.] This polyyne, consisting of 24 linearly arranged carbon atoms, represents the longest aryl end-capped oligoyne reported to-date and indeed one of the longest oligoynes ever reported. Oligoyne encapsulation strategies are also being developed in order to access even longer π-conjugated frameworks [Simpkins, S. M. E., Kariuki, B. M., Cox, L. R., (2006), Towards the Synthesis of Insulated Oligoynes: a Ring-Closing-Metathesis Approach to Molecular Encapsulation. J. Organomet. Chem., 691:5517-5523.].

Other activities

  • Society of Chemical Industry:
    • 2003–2008: Invited member and Chair (2006­–2008) of Young Chemists’ Panel.
    • 2009–present: Invited member of Fine Chemicals Group; Treasurer (2013–2015), Secretary (2015–2017) and Chair (2017–2019).


Selected Publications:

S. S. Kharkwal, C. T. Johndrow, N. Veerapen, H. Kharkwal, N. A. Saavedra-Avila, L. J. Carreno, S. Rothberg, J. Zhang, S. J. Garforth, P. J. Jervis, L. Zhang, A. Donda, A. K. Besra, L. R. Cox, S. C. Almo, A. Howell, E. E. Evans, M. Zauderer, G. S. Besra, S. A. Porcelli, Cancer Res. 2021, 81, 1788–1801

Serial Stimulation of Invariant Natural Killer T Cells with Covalently Stabilized Bispecific T Cell Engagers Generates Anti-Tumor Immunity While Avoiding Anergy.

M. Salio, A. Wael, N. Veerapen, C. Gonzalez-Lopez, C. Kulicke, D. Waithe, A. W. J. Martens, D. M. Lewinsohn, J. V. Hobrath, L. R. Cox, J. Rossjohn, G. S. Besra, V. Cerundolo, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 2020, 117, 10465–10475.

Ligand-dependent downregulation of MR1 cell surface expression.

R. Soto, E. Perez-Herran, B. Rodriguez, B. M. Duma, M. Cacho-Izquierdo, A. Mendoz-Losana, J. Lelievre, D. Barros Aguirre, L. Ballell, L. R. Cox, L. J. Alderwick, G. S. Besra, Sci. Rep., 2018, 8:12664.

Identification and characterization of aspartyl-tRNA synthetase inhibitors against Mycobacterium tuberculosis by an integrated whole-cell target-based approach

N. Veerapen, S. S. Kharkwal, P. Jervis, V. Bhowruth, A. K. Besra, S. J. North, S. M. Haslam, A. Dell, J. Hobrath, P. J. Quaid, P. J. Moynihan, L. R. Cox, H. Kharkwal, M. Zauderer, G. S. Besra, S. A. Porcelli, Bioconjugate. Chem., 2018, 9, 3161–3173.

Photoactivable Glycolipid Antigens Generate Stable Conjugates with CD1d for Invariant Natural Killer T Cell Activation.

 J.-P. Jukes, U. Gileadi, H. Ghadbane, T. F. Yu, D. Shepherd, L. R. Cox, G. S. Besra, V. Cerundolo, Eur. J. Immunol., 2016, 46, 1224–1234.

Non-glycosidic compounds can stimulate both human and mouse iNKT cells


Besra, G. S., Cox, L. R., and Cerundolo, V. (2013) iNKT cell modulators and methods of using the same. WO2013079687 A1

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