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Institute’s new home “will enable world-leading research”

Sir Trevor Pears, executive chair of the Pears Foundation, led a ceremony to fit the last bolt into the steel frame of the Pears Building on 15 October, marking a milestone in the creation of the new home for the Institute of Immunology and Transplantation (IIT). Above, Sir Trevor prepares to install the final bolt in the building’s steel frame.

Sir Trevor, who runs the foundation with his two brothers, congratulated the Royal Free Charity, the Royal Free London NHS Trust (RFL) and UCL at the topping-out ceremony for “your vision, drive and incredible persistence over the last few years that has got you to this point”.

He added that the location of the foundation’s offices only 200 metres away from the new building meant that staff had had the excitement of seeing the skyline change as the building reached its highest point. “It also means we are literally keeping an eye on you!”

Kate Slemeck, chief executive of the Royal Free Hospital, said that the new landmark in the local community would have an impact on the world with its research findings. “It will make Hampstead a global leader in its areas of research and patient care and bringing those two things together.” 

Expansion of the IIT would mean many more patients having access to ground-breaking trials of new therapies treating immune conditions, type 1 diabetes and transplantation. “There are many exciting areas of research including gene therapy for leukaemia patients and we may cure type 1 diabetes, which affects so many people.” Participating patients would be able to stay in the new building’s patient accommodation, easing their treatment programme.

Professor Hans Stauss, director of IIT, told the more than 50 people who attended the ceremony that he had first proposed the institute 10 years earlier but it was only because the RFL and UCL had got behind the idea with support and funding, and the charity had agreed to supplement a government grant, that everything had taken off. It had then progressed further thanks to the generosity of major donors such as the Pears, Wolfson and Sethia foundations.

When the project had been conceived there had been no evidence of the clinical impact of immunotherapy. “But we are fortunate that the field has developed rapidly and we are now at the  forefront of the development of new treatment options for our patients, nationally and internationally.”

Matt Adams, senior operations manager for the construction company, Willmott Dixon (WD), briefly reviewed the history of topping-out ceremonies during which, he said, the Romans celebrated by throwing people – often the architects – from the top of the building. During the ceremony he invited the creators of the Pears Building design, Hopkins, to keep the tradition alive but they declined.

WD’s culture, he added, was to gain a real understanding of its clients’ work and to this end a moving video formed part of its induction programme. During the film WD staff describe how people close to them had been affected by diseases at the heart of the institute’s work. And staff from the charity and WD had recently joined forces in a sponsored bike ride to Paris which had raised £15,000 for the charity.

In the climax of the ceremony, Chris Burghes, chief executive of the charity, invited Sir Trevor to fit the final bolt to the building’s frame. Bricks on which many of the guests had written their names were also laid into a wall which will remain visible in the charity’s new office for the life of the building.

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