Dr Steven Lee BSc PhD

Dr Steven Lee

Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy
Senior Research Fellow

Contact details

Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Steven Lee is a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy. He has over 25 years experience of working on cellular immune responses to viruses and human cancer with particular emphasis on Epstein-Barr virus-associated tumours. He is an enthusiastic communicator and teacher on the theme of immune-based therapies for cancer presenting his work to both academics and the general public.



  • Senior Research Fellow
  • PhD in Immunology, University of London 1990
  • BSc (Hons) in Microbiology, University of Bristol 1986


Steven Lee qualified with a BSc (Hons) in Microbiology from the University of Bristol in 1986. He went on to study for a PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researching immune responses in leprosy patients.

In 1989 he joined the Institute of Cancer Studies at the University of Birmingham. After a couple of post-doc positions, he received a Career Development Award from the MRC which afforded the opportunity to spend a year working in the laboratory of Prof Philip Greenberg at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, USA.

Upon returning to Birmingham, Steven obtained a Senior Cancer Research Fellowship from Cancer Research UK and was successful in renewing this Fellowship in 2006. Throughout his time in Birmingham he has studied the immune response to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and EBV-associated human cancers.  He is now focussing on genetic engineering of T cells to target both virus- and non-virus-associated cancers with a particular interest in targeting the tumour vasculature.


Postgraduate supervision

Steven is interested in supervising doctoral research students in the following areas:

• Immune responses to viruses and human cancer
• Immune-based therapies for human cancer

If you are interesting in studying any of these subject areas please contact Steven on the contact details above, or for any general doctoral research enquiries, please email: dr@contacts.bham.ac.uk or call +44 (0)121 414 5005.


T cell therapy for human cancers

Antibodies for cancer therapy are already in clinical use, but T cells offer even greater potential in this context because of their ability to recognise intracellular antigens. Our laboratory is seeking to develop T cell therapy for human cancer using genetic engineering approaches to attack the malignant cells directly (e.g. targeting viral antigens known to be expressed in some cancers or by attacking the tumour vasculature upon which the cancer depends. We are currently engaged in preclinical development of some of these therapies which we plan to take forward to clinical testing in phase I trials.

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated malignancies

Through a well-established collaboration with the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Prof. A.T.C. Chan, Prof. K.W. Lo) we are investigating T cell responses to the undifferentiated form of Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), one of the most common cancers in South East Asia and one that is consistently EBV-positive. Alongside our basic research into the immunology of this cancer, including the definition of viral target antigens, immune evasion mechanisms and the function of T cells that naturally reside within the tumour tissue, we are developing adoptive T cell therapy approaches.

T cell receptor (TCR) gene transfer

We have successfully cloned a gene encoding a TCR specific for LMP2, an EBV protein widely expressed in NPC. Using retroviral mediated gene transfer we have then delivered this TCR into T cells. The result is that within 3-5 days we can reliably generate large numbers of high avidity LMP2-specific effectors capable of recognising cells endogenously expressing physiological levels of this viral protein. We are currently designing a phase I trial in which to test these modified T cells in NPC patients.

Chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) targeting the tumour vasculature 

A major focus of our current work is the use of CARs.  These combine the specificity of antibodies with the cytotoxic and immunomodulatory functions of T cells and function in an MHC-unrestricted manner. Typically, CARs consist of a single chain variable fragment (scFv) of a specific antibody linked to intracellular T cell signalling domains. Working with Prof Roy Bicknell (University of Birmingham) we have identified several tumour endothelial markers and are exploring their suitability as targets for CAR-based T cell therapies.  One of these markers, CLEC14A, is highly expressed on the surface of endothelial cells lining the vasculature of many common human cancers but is poorly expressed/undetectable in the vasculature of healthy tissue. CARs targeting this marker have yielded encouraging results both in vitro and in vivo and we are currently working with the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult in preclinical development of this approach leading towards a phase I clinical trial.

Other activities

  • Deputy School Biological Safety Officer


Zheng Y, Parsonage G, Zhuang X, Machado LR, James CH, Salman A, Searle PF, Hui EP, Chan ATC and Lee SP (2015) Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) A*1101-restricted Epstein-Barr virus-specific T-cell receptor gene transfer to target Nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Cancer Immunol Res 3(10):1138-47

Frumento G, Zheng Y, Aubert G, Raeiszadeh M, Lansdorp PM, Moss P, Lee SP and Chen FE (2013) Cord blood T cells retain early differentiation phenotype suitable for immunotherapy after TCR gene transfer to confer EBV specificity. Am J Transplant 13(1):45-55

Parsonage G, Machado LR, Hui J, McLarnon A, Schmaler T, Balasothy M, To K-F, Vlantis AC, van Hasselt CA, Lo KW, Wong W-L, Hui EP, Chan A and Lee SP (2012) CXCR6 and CCR5 localise T lymphocyte subsets in Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma. Am J Pathol 180(3):1215-22

Oldham KA, Parsonage G, Bhatt RI, Wallace DMA, Deshmukh N, Chaudhri S, Adams DH and Lee SP (2012) T lymphocyte recruitment into Renal Cell Carcinoma tissue: A role for chemokine receptors CXCR3, CXCR6, CCR5 and CCR6. Eur Urol 61(2):385-94

Dowell AC, Oldham KA, Bhatt RI, Lee SP and Searle PF (2012) Long-term proliferation of functional human NK cells, with conversion of CD56dim NK cells to a CD56bright phenotype, induced by carcinoma cells co-expressing 4-1BBL and IL-12. Cancer Immunol Immunother 61(5):615-28

Fox CP, Haigh TA, Taylor GS, Long HM, Lee SP, Shannon-Lowe C, O'Connor S, Bollard CM, Iqbal J, Chan WC, Rickinson AB, Bell AI and Rowe M (2010) A novel latent membrane 2 transcript expressed in Epstein-Barr virus-positive NK and T cell lymphoproliferative disease encodes a target for cellular immunotherapy. Blood 116(19):3695-704

Long HM, Parsonage G, Fox CP and Lee SP (2010) Immunotherapy for Epstein-Barr virus-associated malignancies. Drug News Perspect 23(4):221-8

Brooks JM, Lee SP, Leese AM, Thomas WA, Rowe M and Rickinson AB (2009) Cyclical Expression of EBV Latent Membrane Protein 1 in EBV-Transformed B Cells Underpins Heterogeneity of Epitope Presentation and CD8+ T Cell Recognition. J Immunol 182(4):1919–28

Machado L, Jarrett R, Morgan S, Murray P, Hunter B, Crocker J, Thomas W, Steven N, Ismail T, Chapman A, Adams DH and Lee SP (2009) Expression and function of T cell homing molecules in Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Cancer Immunol Immunother 58(1):85-94

Baumforth KR, Birgersdotter A, Reynolds GM, Wei W, Kapatai G, Flavell JR, Kalk E, Piper K, Lee S, Machado L, Hadley K, Sundblad A, Sjoberg J, Bjorkholm M, Porwit AA, Yap LF, Teo S, Grundy RG, Young LS, Ernberg I, Woodman CB and Murray PG (2008) Expression of the Epstein-Barr virus-encoded Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen 1 in Hodgkin's lymphoma cells mediates Up-regulation of CCL20 and the migration of regulatory T cells. Am J Pathol 173(1):195-204

Hart DP, Xue SA, Thomas S, Cesco-Gaspere M, Tranter A, Willcox B, Lee SP, Steven N, Morris EC and Stauss HJ (2008) Retroviral transfer of a dominant TCR prevents surface expression of a large proportion of the endogenous TCR repertoire in human T cells. Gene Ther 15(8):625-31

Onion D, Crompton LJ, Milligan DW, Moss PA, Lee SP and Mautner V (2007) The CD4+ T-cell response to adenovirus is focused against conserved residues within the hexon protein. J Gen Virol 88(Pt 9):2417-25

Lau KM, Cheng SH, Lo KW, Lee SA, Woo JK, van Hasselt CA, Lee SP, Rickinson AB and Ng MH (2007) Increase in circulating Foxp3+CD4+CD25(high) regulatory T cells in nasopharyngeal carcinoma patients. Br J Cancer 96(4):617-22

Schaft N, Lankiewicz B, Drexhage J, Berrevoets C, Moss DJ, Levitsky V, Bonneville M, Lee SP, McMichael AJ, Gratama JW, Bolhuis RLH, Willemsen R and Debets R (2006) T cell re-targeting to EBV antigens following TCR gene transfer: CD28-containing receptors mediate enhanced antigen-specific IFNγ production. Int Immunol 18(4):591-601

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