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Taking back control of the immune system: designing molecules capable of controlling immune system protein-protein interactions (BEEKMANAU20BIGC)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Beekman
    Prof M Searcey
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

One of the hallmarks of cancers is their ability to evade the immune system. Most tumours in the body are recognised and destroyed by the immune system, but cancer cells overproduce proteins which turn off the immune system and underproduce proteins which turn on the immune system. Two of the proteins which control this are Programmed Death-1 (PD-1) and Programmed Death Ligand-1 (PD-L1). Being able to control the interaction of these two proteins has led to treatments for many cancers, including lymphoma, melanoma, lung and renal cancer, and the award of the Nobel Prize in 2018. Antibodies are currently used to control this protein-protein interaction, but antibodies are expensive and can trigger undesired immune responses. If small, drug-like molecules could be found which control this protein-protein interaction then this treatment could become more widely available. However, finding small molecules which control massive proteins is very challenging with current techniques.

This project aims to use a new technique, developed in our lab, to design small molecules which can control this protein-protein interaction. This chemical biology project will be interdisciplinary, involving training in the computational design and synthesis of peptides and small molecules, the analysis of compounds binding to proteins and their activity in cancer cells. Led by Dr Andrew Beekman and Professor Mark Searcey, there is an opportunity to learn medicinal chemistry, protein biophysics, cellular biology and structural biology, using facilities across the School of Pharmacy and Norwich Research Park.

You will have, or expect to obtain a first class, 2(i) or equivalent Honours degree in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Pharmacy or related area.

Informal enquiries are welcomed: Dr Andrew Beekman ([Email Address Removed]) or Prof. Mark Searcey ([Email Address Removed]).

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please go here:

This is a PhD programme.

The start date of the project is 1 October 2020.

The mode of study is full-time. The studentship length is 3 years. Please note, 3-year studentships have a (non-funded) 1-year ‘registration only’ period.

Funding Notes

This PhD studentship is funded for 3 years by Big C. Funding is available to UK/EU applicants only and includes Home/EU tuition fees an annual stipend of £15,923 in year 1, rising to £16,892 in year 3.

Entry requirements:

Acceptable first degree in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Pharmacy or related area.

The standard minimum entry requirement is 2:1 or equivalent Honours degree.


1. Beekman, O’Connell & Howell, Angew. Chem. 2017, 56, 10446
2. Beekman, Searcey et al., Chem. Sci. 2019, 10, 4502

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