Professor Ben Willcox

Ben Wilcox.School of Cancer Sciences Day 1 110311.

Professor Ben Willcox is characterising the immune response to cellular stress antigens, including  targets recognised by gamma delta T cells,  and  targets for adaptive T cell recognition including phosphopeptides.

Professor of Molecular Immunology, Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, College of Medical Sciences and Dentistry, University of Birmingham. 


UoB profile

LinkedIn profile

Background and Research focus

Ben leads an active research group in the field of cancer immunology and immunotherapy, with a focus on understanding immune receptor recognition. His recent work focuses on novel tumour antigens and unconventional T cell function, particularly in immunosurveillance of cellular stress. He has received major grants from Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and most recently Investigator Award funding from the Wellcome Trust.

Ben’s research team combines molecular, structural and cellular expertise to understand clinically important immune receptor recognition events, including those underpinning the graft-versus leukaemia effect, unconventional T cell immunosurveillance of tumours, including gamma delta T cell responses, and T cell recognition of post-translational modified peptides. A key aim is to extend basic immunology studies in order to apply our molecular insights to improved targeting strategies for cancer treatment. In this area, we have several ongoing collaborations both within the CRUK Centre and with other UK or international groups to understand and explore both targeting of novel TAAs, and tumour targeting by unconventional lymphocytes.


tumour immunology; unconventional T cells; gamma delta T cells; phosphopeptide immunology; protein-protein interaction analysis; TCR/pMHC interactions; surface plasmon resonance; X-ray crystallography; recombinant protein expression.

Other activities

In addition to leading his own research group, Ben is director of the University’s Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Centre, a collaborative grouping of over 30 academic and clinical groups focussed on understanding fundamental aspects of tumour immunology and applying these to the development of novel cancer immunotherapy strategies.


Willcox-CR*, Pitard-V*, Netzer-S, Couzi-L, Salim-M, Silberzahn-T, Moreau-JF, Hayday-AC, Willcox-BE*, Dechanet-Merville-J*. (2012). Cytomegalovirus and tumor stress surveillance by binding of a human gamma delta T cell antigen receptor to endothelial protein C receptor. Nat Immunol  13(9): 872-9

Simpson-AA*, Mohammed-F*, Salim-M, Tranter-A, Rickinson-AB, Stauss-HJ, Moss-PAH, Steven-NM and Willcox-BE. (2011). Structural and energetic evidence for highly peptide-specific tumor antigen targeting via Allo-MHC-restriction. Proc Natl Acad Sci 108(52):21176-81

Cheng-H, Mohammed-F, Nam-G, Chen-C, Qi-J, Garner-LI, Allen-RL, Yan-J, Willcox-BE and Gao-GF. (2011).  Crystal structure of Leukocyte Immunoglobulin-like Receptor LILRB4: a myeloid inhibitory receptor involved in immune tolerance.  Journal of Biological Chemistry 286(20): 18013-25

Montamat-Sicotte-DJ, Millington-KA, Willcox-CR, Hingley-Wilson-S, Hackforth-S, Innes-J, Kon-OM, Minnikin-DE, Besra-GS, Willcox-BE* and Lalvani-A*. (2011). Mycolic acid-specific T-cells in human tuberculosis are dynamically related to antigen load and exhibit memory expansion after cure. Journal of Clinical Investigation

Nicholls-S, Piper-KP, Mohammed-F, Dafforn-TR, Salim-M, Tenzer-S, van Endert-P, Schild-H, Cobbold-M, Engelhard-VH, Moss-PAH and Willcox-BE. (2009). Secondary anchor polymorphism in the HA-1 minor histocompatibility antigen critically affects MHC stability and TCR recognition. Proc Natl Acad Sci 106(10):3889-94.

Mohammed-F, Cobbold-M, Zarling-AL, Salim-M, Barret-Wilt-GA, Shabanowitz-J, Hunt-DF, Engelhard-VH and Willcox-BE. (2008). Phosphorylation-dependent interaction between antigenic peptides and MHC class I: a molecular basis for the presentation of transformed self. Nature Immunology 9(11): 1236-43

Hart-DP, Xue-SA, Thomas-S, Cesco-Gaspere-M, Tranter-A, Willcox-BE, 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.

Willcox-BE, Willcox-CR, Dover-LG and Besra-G. (2007). “Structures and functions of microbial lipid antigens presented by CD1”., In: Moody, D.B. (ed). T cell activation by CD1 and Lipid Antigens. Springer. Curr Topp Microbiol Immunol: 314: pp73-110.

Antrobus-RD, Khan-N, Hislop-AD, Montamat-Sicotte-D, Garner-LI, Rickinson-AB, Moss-PA and Willcox-BE. (2005). Virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes differentially express cell-surface leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptor-1, an inhibitory receptor for class I major histocompatibility complex molecules. Journal of Infectious Diseases 191 (11): 1842-53.

Willcox-BE, Thomas-LM and Bjorkman-PJ (2003). Crystal structure of HLA-A2 Bound to LIR-1, a Host and Viral MHC Receptor. Nature Immunology 4(9): 913-9.