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The Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology has a rich history of research into inflammatory and musculoskeletal conditions and is world renowned for its pioneering work on anti-TNF therapy.

Montage of people and buildings related to the Kennedy history

Mathilda Kennedy and her husband Terrence Kennedy founded the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in 1965 with the vision of creating the first research institute dedicated to the cause and cure of rheumatic disease.

They donated £500,000 to the West London and Charing Cross Hospitals to build a new Institute of Rheumatology in Bute Gardens, Hammersmith with the pathologist, Professor Dugald Gardner, becoming its first Director. Professor Helen Muir FRS, who took over as Director in 1977, is largely credited with revealing the key biochemical pathways that cause osteoarthritis.

In 1984, Professor Ravinder Maini at the Kennedy Institute started to research disease mechanisms in rheumatoid arthritis in collaboration with Professor Marc Feldmann from the Sunley Research Centre. Shortly after Professor Maini became Director of the Kennedy Institute in 1990, it merged with the Sunley Research Centre. Using joint tissue samples obtained from rheumatoid arthritis patients, Professors Maini and Feldmann identified that TNF causes cells in the joint to produce high amounts of inflammatory cytokines - identifying TNF as a therapeutic target. This work was performed with the help of the late Professor Fionula Brennan, Dr Glen Buchan and Dr Richard Williams.

Professors Maini and Feldmann led a proof of principle clinical trial in 1992 using a chimeric anti-human TNFα monoclonal antibody, developed by the US biotech, Centocor. They found a dramatic improvement in disease symptoms and led further clinical trials contributing to approval for use of anti-TNF in rheumatoid arthritis in 1999. From this work a new era of therapeutics was born, and anti-TNF was later approved for use in other inflammatory conditions including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. To this day new targets are being identified and approved.

Professors Feldmann and Maini received Knighthoods for their pioneering work on anti-TNF, as well as a number of prestigious international prizes, such as the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy in 2000, the Albert Lasker Clinical Research in 2003, and in 2014 the Canada Gairdner Award.

In August 2000, the staff and research activities of the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology joined Imperial College London as the 10th division of the newly formed Faculty of Medicine. At the same time, the Trust became the Mathilda and Terence Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology Trust.

Professor Sir Marc Feldmann was appointed Director of the Institute in 2002. The Institute joined the University of Oxford in 2011 with the vision of expanding the scope of its research to encompass a broader range of inflammatory and degenerative diseases. It was incorporated into the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS) and moved to a purpose built research building sited on the University’s Old Road Campus in July 2013.

In October 2014, Professor Fiona Powrie FRS was appointed Director of the Institute. Prof Powrie is leading the Institute into a new era in Oxford, establishing it as a world-leading Institute in discovery science and translational research.

 (Image credit : Paul Vater @sugarfree and Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research)