The CIMR has stayed true to the vision of its founders. It was Keith Peters as Regius Professor of Physic in the 1980s who originally envisaged a modern research facility in Cambridge, where clinical and basic science could converge to study the molecular mechanisms of disease. Together with Jennie Blackwell (CIMR’s founding Director), he orchestrated the planning and funding to make this happen. “Almost immediately, Keith Peters identified Jennie as the person to articulate the rationale and objectives for the new institute in an application to the Wellcome Trust” recalls Paul Luzio (CIMR Director 2002–2012). A core aim was to have a high proportion of researchers who were clinically active, and this required close juxtaposition of the institute with Addenbrooke’s hospital. Jennie Blackwell and Keith Peters together with Martin Bobrow (then Chair of Medical Genetics) and Doug Fearon worked for several years to plan and raise funds for the building. Their brainchild became reality from 1993, when the Wellcome Trust awarded major capital for this project, the MRC agreed to the re-location of MRC Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, and the Wellcome Trust/MRC building was subsequently constructed on the Addenbrooke’s hospital site.
To determine the research focus and profile of the CIMR, Martin Bobrow chaired a committee of senior scientists — Jennie Blackwell, Robin Carrell, Paul Luzio, Bruce Ponder, Keith Peters, Patrick Sissions, Doug Fearon, Ron Laskey, Hugh Pelham, Andrew Wyllie, Richard Henderson and John Todd. Together they recruited scientists to the CIMR, many at a senior level. They approached this with a particular emphasis on mentoring and collaboration. In addition, “There was a deliberate and positive focus on the recruitment of clinician scientists … . The driving force was to create an environment in which collaborations would emerge and flourish”, said Jennie Blackwell. They achieved this, attracting researchers with expertise across medical genetics, immunology, infectious diseases, haematopoiesis, oncology, biochemistry, cell biology and structural biology, ~40% of whom were clinicians.
Another challenge was obtaining the funds to equip the building with state-of-art-facilities, and Jennie Blackwell worked for several years to achieve this. A vital contribution was also made by Andrew Durham (the first Administrator), Ian Flack (the first laboratory manager) and Sheryl Bailey (PA to Jennie Blackwell) in creating CIMR as a modern facility, such as had not been seen in the Clinical School previously. This support team ensured that the building was up and running for when the first groups moved into the building in 1998. The following year, they were joined by the researchers of the neighbouring MRC Dunn Nutrition Unit (now the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit), with their new Director John Walker, and Princess Anne formally opened the Wellcome Trust/MRC building in October 2000.
In 2002, with CIMR firmly established, Jennie stepped down to focus on her research. She was replaced by Paul Luzio, who remained Director throughout the following decade, together with David Lomas as Deputy Director. During this time, the Wellcome Trust has remained the major supporter of the institute and a succession of strategic awards have provided essential support for core facilities. Another key development at the CIMR was the establishment of the JDRF/Wellcome Trust Diabetes and Inflammation Laboratory in 2001 by John Todd (Director) and Linda Wicker (Co-Director), with support from both the Wellcome Trust and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (JDRF).
Because CIMR researchers have a home department across the medicine and biology faculties, the institute was well placed from the outset to promote extensive collaborations with other groups in Cambridge. Indeed, amidst the numerous successes of the past 15 years, CIMR has also provided fertile ground for researchers who have branched out to help establish new research institutes in Cambridge. These researchers include Bruce Ponder (who became Director of the CRUK Cambridge Institute), Roger Pedersen (head of the Anne McLaren Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine that is part of the Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem cell Institute), Ashok Venkitaraman (Director of the MRC Cancer Unit, Hutchison/MRC Research Centre), and Stephen O’Rahilly (co-Director of the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science). This has allowed CIMR to become extensively entwined with the growing landscape of Cambridge science, and both Stephen O’Rahilly and Jennie Blackwell remain affiliated PIs today.