Imperial College London

Obituary: Professor Antony Barrington Kay ‘Barry’ (1939-2020)


Barry Kay with his portrait and Stephen Holgate

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Barry Kay, Emeritus Professor with the National Heart and Lung Institute.

Professor Barry Kay (PhD, DSc, FRCPE, FRCP, FRCPath, FMedSci, FRSE) was Head of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, from 1980 to 2004 at Imperial. He was also Head of the Allergy Clinic at the Royal Brompton Hospital during this time and his research laboratory was based at the NHLI's Dovehouse Street campus.

"His national and international legacy to asthma and allergy is truly phenomenal" Professor Stephen Durham

Barry passed away on 30th December, 2020 after being admitted to hospital with an acute illness. He had metastatic bladder cancer for several years and endured chemotherapy and immunotherapy and in recent months received palliative care at home.

Since 2004 Barry has been Professor Emeritus at Imperial and a member of the Leukocyte Biology Section, recently renamed to Inflammation Repair and Development.

Barry is photographed above with his wife Rosemary at his 80th birthday party held at Imperial in June 2019. Rosemary was a major influence on the success of his career and provided the graphic art for many of his early publications.

Current Head of NHLI, Professor Edwin Chilvers, comments "As I write this, I am sitting in front of my copy of ‘Allergy and Allergic Diseases’ (Volumes I and II) edited by Professor Barry Kay; it’s a masterpiece and a fitting tribute to a world-class scientist, friend and colleague. His work has transformed the lives of many patients with asthma and allergic disease".

A master of science

Barry was the master of translational basic and clinical research in asthma and allergy, recognising early on the essential need for close collaboration between clinic and laboratory and the need to harness cutting edge technology. Barry trained in medicine at Edinburgh, obtained his PhD with Robin Coombs at Cambridge and completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Frank Austen at Harvard.

Barry held consecutive MRC programme grants throughout his time at NHLI. With Tak Lee and Oliver Cromwell he initially focused on the role of mast cells and mediators of hypersensitivity in human early and late-phase asthmatic responses. In an elegant series of in vitro and in vivo studies with Redwan Moqbel and Andrew Wardlaw he characterised the role of eosinophils in bronchial asthma.

He established, with Peter Jeffrey, specific immunohistochemistry of bronchial biopsies, and with Chris Corrigan and Garry Walsh, flow cytometry, techniques that enabled him to establish the critical role for T cells in bronchial asthma. Proof of concept came through randomised clinical trials of anti-CD4 monoclonal antibodies and cyclosporin.

A first for asthma

Following on from Mossman and Coffman’s murine studies in the late 80’s, and by use of in situ hybridisation of bronchial tissue with Qutayba Hamid, and in the context of meticulous clinical experimental studies, Barry was the first to unequivocally establish the Th2 T lymphocyte hypothesis for bronchial asthma in both atopic and nonatopic forms of the disease. It has taken nearly 20 years for the approval of monoclonal antibodies targeting the Th2 pathway in treatment, that have transformed the modern management of severe steroid-dependent asthma.

Following on from the murine studies of Jonathan Lamb at Imperial and with Mark Larche, Barry defined the role of T cell peptides in provoking human late-phase asthma and established T cell peptides as a novel strategy for specific immunotherapy for allergic diseases. Until very recently, he remained research active with a focus on mechanisms of urticaria and anti-IgE monoclonal antibody therapy – with active collaboration with Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Imperial until three weeks ago.

Barry with Stephen Holgate
Barry Kay is photographed here with Stephen Holgate at the presentation of his portrait that now hangs in NHLI Dovehouse Street

A man of many talents

Barry founded and led the NHLI annual postgraduate course ‘Basic and Clinical Allergy’ from 1982 to 2004 that received international acclaim. He was a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and received numerous national and international awards for his research. He was President of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (1989-92) and President of the British Society BSACI (1993-96). He was co-editor with Stephen Holgate of the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy (1984-2008). He was specialist adviser to the House of Lord’s Science and Technology Committee Enquiry into Allergy Services (2006-07).

Barry was an accomplished musician - a formidable bassoon player and he built and played his own harpsichord! He was a keen tennis player and played until very recently. Barry was devoted to his wife Rosemary and their three lovely and accomplished daughters Emma, Becky and Beth, and their grandchildren.

Missed by many

He is held in the highest regard by all his former students who celebrated his 80th birthday at a party organised by Stephen Till and held at the Rector’s house last year. They travelled from all over the world – clinicians and scientists - many of whom hold professorships in allergy in all corners of the globe.

His national and international legacy to asthma and allergy is truly phenomenal.


Stephen Durham

Stephen Durham
National Heart & Lung Institute

Click to expand or contract

Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7351 8024

Show all stories by this author