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Pitt BioForge appointed its inaugural CEO

Ken Gabriel

Kaigham “Ken” J. Gabriel was appointed the inaugural CEO of Pitt BioForge and director of the Advanced Biomanufacturing Institute at the University of Pittsburgh.

In this role, he will lead the establishment and operation the planned biomanufacturing facility at Hazelwood Green, the former site of Pittsburgh’s last operating steel mill. With the groundbreaking scheduled soon, Pitt embarks on a mission to develop and transition cell and gene therapies to treat diverse conditions as cancer and blindness, helping to establish Pittsburgh as a leader in the scaling and delivering of outcomes from life sciences research.

“Ken’s depth of experience as an innovator across government, academic and commercial sectors makes him a perfect fit for leveraging Pitt’s world-class research in medicine and the health sciences at BioForge,” Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine, said in Monday’s announcement. “His leadership will facilitate breakthroughs and accelerate commercial development that will benefit countless patients while also partnering with the Hazelwood community to introduce new opportunities for growth in an inclusive and sustainable way.”

Gabriel was most recently the founding chief operating officer of Wellcome Leap, an international organization working at the intersection of life sciences and engineering to deliver critical medical and health care innovations on accelerated timelines. In a little more than two years, he helped develop 10 multimillion-dollar ongoing programs — ranging from artificial kidneys and the biology of depression to next-generation surgical delivery and resilient aging — with annual funding of $200 million to more than 150 international research organizations on six continents.

“The best treatment for you is you. That’s the power and promise of biologic precision medicines — they are medicines designed to recruit your own body’s capabilities to heal,” Gabriel said. “BioForge’s mission is to accelerate breakthroughs in both the development and manufacturing of precision medicines to speed their delivery, use and impact.”

Previously, he was the president and CEO of Draper, an MIT spinoff engineering company known for developing the Apollo guidance computer in the 1960s. He drove double-digit revenue growth for four consecutive years to more than $600 million, expanding the company’s offerings to include biomedical innovations in end-to-end cell therapy, engineered human organ-on-a-chip platforms for drug discovery and the world’s first adaptive pediatric heart valve. 

“As a society, we often celebrate new inventions while overlooking the ingenuity and passion required to deliver them. Manufacturing precision medicines will require innovations just as potent as those that led to their invention,” Gabriel said.

A former tenured professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Gabriel expects BioForge to bridge the academic, commercial and government sectors in which he’s spent his career creating game-changing capabilities to build the future.

“We are excited about Ken’s hire and about his efforts to enhance this game-changing venture. Together we are demonstrating how anything is possible at Pitt, as well as how we are at our best when we are serving the community and expanding opportunity and knowledge,” said Chancellor Joan Gabel.

About Pitt BioForge

Pitt BioForge accelerates breakthroughs in the development and manufacturing of new biologic precision medicines to speed their delivery, use and impact. Innovations and breakthroughs from BioForge will focus on manufacturing advanced precision medicines in less time, more efficiently and cost effectively, enabling access to these life-changing medicines for all. BioForge is fueled by the world-class biomedical research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences and enhanced by Pitt’s partnership with UPMC. The Richard King Mellon Foundation provided a $100 million grant to advance the Pittsburgh region’s life sciences economy through the support of BioForge. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company ElevateBio will be the founding anchor tenant at BioForge, operating a commercial gene and cell therapy biomanufacturing hub to be called Basecamp Pittsburgh.