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Professor Chris Pepper

Prof Chris Pepper

Professor Chris Pepper (PhD)

Professor of Cancer Research
T: +44 (0)1273 678644
Location: Medical Research Building, University of Sussex, Falmer BN1 9PX

Area of expertise: Cancer biology 

Research areas: Leukaemia 



Prof Chris Pepper gained his PhD in medicinal chemistry from the Welsh School of Pharmacy in 1993. Since then his research career has been primarily focused on one disease, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). He has published more than 100 research papers, as well as numerous reviews and editorials, and has consistently secured grant funding from major sources including Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (now Bloodwise), Cancer Research UK and the Association of International Cancer Research. His research has made a number of notable contributions to the field of CLL and is internationally recognized as demonstrated by sustained contributions to the world literature in high impact factor journals including papers in Leukemia, Blood, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research, Nature Communications and Nature Genetics. In addition, he is an author of eight global patents and the co-founder of a Cardiff University spin-out company called TeloNostiX. 


For more than two decades, Chris’ research has focused on understanding the mechanisms that underpin the development of disease progression and drug resistance using primary chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) cells as a model. Chris maintains that the study of this disseminated tumour represents an unrivalled opportunity to unravel these processes as longitudinal sampling from both the lymphoid tissues and the peripheral blood is possible. There is an increasing realisation that tumour pathology and the development of drug resistance are not only determined by the intrinsic tumour genotype but are also influenced by the interplay between tumour cells and the different microenvironments in which they reside. In order to address this, Chris’ team have developed a physiologically relevant, multi-compartment, in vitro models to mimic these tumour microenvironments and investigate the molecular drivers of tumour cell trafficking, homing and tissue retention.

His research is almost entirely patient-focussed; most of his work is based on primary CLL cells and has a strong translational element designed to improve patient care. In this regard, his team were the first to demonstrate the clinical importance of the BCL2 family of proteins and the transcription factor NF-κB in modulating disease progression and response to drugs. His background in medicinal chemistry has led to a strong interest in evaluating the efficacy and mechanisms of action of novel pre-clinical agents. His current drug development programme includes agents targeting IKKα, NIK, CDK9, CXCR4 and ATR.



Throughout his career, Chris has shown a consistent commitment to teaching and learning at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He has contributed lectures, seminars and tutorials to numerous undergraduate degree modules and has successfully supervised more than 20 postgraduate research degrees. Chris is a passionate believer in the value of research-led teaching. He believes that integration of cutting-edge research into educational programmes not only ensures that courses remain relevant, but it also exposes students to the research environment which, hopefully challenges and inspires them to consider taking up postgraduate research opportunities in the future.

Selected publications

Hyatt S, Jones RE, Heppel NH, Grimstead JW, et al. Telomere length is a critical determinant for survival in multiple myeloma. Br J Haematol. 2017 Mar 24. doi:10.1111/bjh.14643. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28342200.

Law PJ, Berndt SI, Speedy HE, Camp NJ, et al. Genome-wide association analysis implicates dysregulation of immunity genes in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Nat Commun. 2017 Feb 6;8:14175. doi:10.1038/ncomms14175. PubMed PMID: 28165464; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5303820.

Law PJ, Sud A, Mitchell JS, Henrion M, et al. Genome-wide association analysis of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma identifies pleiotropic risk loci. Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 23;7:41071. doi:10.1038/srep41071. PubMed PMID: 28112199; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5253627.

Pepper C, Tu H, Morrill P, Garcia-Rates S, Fegan C, Greenfield S. Tumor cell migration is inhibited by a novel therapeutic strategy antagonizing the alpha-7 receptor. Oncotarget. 2017 Feb 14;8(7):11414-11424. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.14545. PubMed PMID: 28077796; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5355275.

Pasikowska M, Walsby E, Apollonio B, Cuthill K, et al. Phenotype and immune function of lymph node and peripheral blood CLL cells are linked to transendothelial migration. Blood. 2016 Jul 28;128(4):563-73. doi:10.1182/blood-2016-01-683128. Epub 2016 Jun 1. PubMed PMID: 27252234.

Nichols EM, Jones R, Watson R, Pepper CJ, Fegan C, Marchbank KJ. A CD21 low phenotype, with no evidence of autoantibodies to complement proteins, is consistent with a poor prognosis in CLL. Oncotarget. 2015 Oct 20;6(32):32669-80. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.5404. PubMed PMID: 26452134; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4741721.

Strefford JC, Kadalayil L, Forster J, Rose-Zerilli MJ, et al. Telomere length predicts progression and overall survival in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: data from the UK LRF CLL4 trial. Leukemia. 2015 Dec;29(12):2411-4. doi:10.1038/leu.2015.217. Epub 2015 Aug 10. PubMed PMID: 26256637; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4676082.

Parry HM, Damery S, Hudson C, Maurer MJ, et al. Cytomegalovirus infection does not impact on survival or time to first treatment in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Am J Hematol. 2016 Aug;91(8):776-81. doi:10.1002/ajh.24403. Epub 2016 Jun 1. PubMed PMID: 27124884; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4957613.

Pepper C, Buggins AG, Jones CH, Walsby EJ, Forconi F, Pratt G, Devereux S, Stevenson FK, Fegan C. Phenotypic heterogeneity in IGHV-mutated CLL patients has prognostic impact and identifies a subset with increased sensitivity to BTK and PI3Kδ inhibition. Leukemia. 2015 Mar;29(3):744-7. doi: 10.1038/leu.2014.308. Epub 2014 Oct 28. PubMed PMID: 25349153; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4360209.

Vaisitti T, Audrito V, Serra S, Buonincontri R, et al. The enzymatic activities of CD38 enhance CLL growth and trafficking: implications for therapeutic targeting. Leukemia. 2015 Feb;29(2):356-68. doi:10.1038/leu.2014.207. Epub 2014 Jul 3. PubMed PMID: 24990614.

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