Ravinder Nath Maini, the Ludhiana-born expert in rheumatology who was knighted in 2003 for his research, has now been named as the joint recipient of the 2014 Canada Gairdner Award, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for medical research.
Cambridge-educated Maini, 76, shares the award with Marc Feldmann, both professors based at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, University of Oxford.
Their discovery of an antibody-based treatment, or ‘anti-TNF’ therapy, for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases has transformed the lives of many patients, the university said.
In the mid-1980s, the team led by Feldmann and Maini began investigating which molecules might be the cause of this disease. Using tissue from joints of patients and animal models of the disease, they were able to demonstrate that a molecule belonging to the ‘cytokine’ family, called tumour necrosis factor, was a major driver of inflammation and joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis.
The research group then showed an antibody-based treatment could block the action of TNF, and was safe and effective for treating people with rheumatoid arthritis. Anti-TNF therapy works rapidly in most patients to reduce pain, improve mobility, and boost quality of life.
In comparison to conventional drugs, it reduces the risk of heart attacks, strokes and increases life expectancy. It has a major role in protecting joints from degeneration, reducing the need for joint surgery, the university said.
“Not only was this a novel treatment, it was the first demonstration of an effective therapy for a long-term autoimmune disease which used a biological molecule as a drug. It led to recognition in the pharmaceutical industry that biological drugs could compete with traditional chemical drugs,” the university added.
Both researchers will receive 100,000 Canadian dollars for their achievement from the Gairdner Foundation. The awards will be presented in Toronto on October 30.